Once again, it will be an intriguing selection conundrum for Gibson and South African skipper Faf du Plessis
There are not many people, outside of Mitchell Johnson of course, that have been able to beat South Africa in Test matches at SuperSport Park.
Rain on two occasions and Graham Onions on another, stopped South Africa beating England. Otherwise SA usually wins in Centurion, doing so 17 times in 22 Tests.
The Proteas enjoy SuperSport Park, venue for the second Sunfoil Test against India, and its surrounds. The atmosphere is usually festive and, because the pitch is traditionally quick and bouncy, the pace of the game is accelerated; and as the first Test showed South Africa enjoy those kinds of conditions.
There was a heatwave last weekend, but cooler temperatures in the days leading up to Saturday’s start, should ensure Bryan Bloy, SuperSport Park’s groundsman, gets the surface matching the Proteas’ demands.
The long-term forecast for the duration of the match is for extremely hot weather on the weekend which may impact on how much grass is left on the surface.
Usually Centurion can be a touch slow on the first day, but as the sun beats down the pitch hardens, gets quicker and is a wonderful venue for shot making and quick bowling. With that much heat being forecast, the pitch should break up, bringing variable bounce into the equation and the possibility that spinners may have a role to play.
Yet it is a venue where the seamers dominate. Dale Steyn, out for the remainder of the Indian series with a severely bruised heel, is unsurprisingly the most successful bowler at SuperSport Park with 56 wickets in nine Tests, while Makhaya Ntini has claimed 54 in 10 matches.
The ground has recently witnessed two of the finest fast bowling performances seen on South African soil. Johnson destroyed the Proteas with a stunning display in 2014 claiming career-best match figures of 12/127 as Australia won the first Test of that series by 281 runs.
Kagiso Rabada, newly promoted to the world’s No 1 Test bowler, also recorded his career-best figures there against England two seasons ago, picking up 13/144 in the fourth Test of that series.
However, SuperSport Park hasn’t been a minefield for batsmen; Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla have scored double hundreds there – Herschelle Gibbs came within eight runs of 200 there too – while AB de Villiers set the record for the fastest Test century by a South African, taking just 75 balls against India in 2010.
The overwhelming majority of teams winning the toss at Centurion choose to field; 15 times in 22 Tests, emerging victorious six times and losing six, while there were the three draws against England.
The look of the surface will have a major bearing on the makeup of the two teams. The South Africans of course have to make at least one change given Steyn’s injury, and if coach Ottis Gibson is to be believed, it will be another quick bowler as a replacement.
Lungi Ngidi has two training sessions to convince Gibson – who admitted he’d only heard “a lot of good things,” about the 21-year-old and wanted to have look at him – that he is capable of making a Test debut at his home ground.
Given Gibson’s preference to use South Africa’s “physicality in terms of our pace,” – unless Ngidi has two awesome training sessions – it will come down to one of Chris Morris and Andile Phehlukwayo.
While the former is capable of touching speeds in excess of 140km/* , Phehlukwayo, while 10 kilometres per hour slower through the air, offers more control and at least has played more than just T20 cricket in the last few months, which is all that Morris has played since returning from a back injury.
Once again, it will be an intriguing selection conundrum for Gibson and South African skipper Faf du Plessis.