It feels a bit different this time around.
Usually when India touch down in Cape Town, they are on the threshold of a dream. Thrice since 1992 have they arrived here to play the decider, winning which would have enabled them to tick South Africa off their list of places to win a series at. They left the city empty-handed on all the three occasions.
When the bubble burst for India here in Cape Town two years ago, the frustration at the sight of yet another Test series slipping away found a way out in the form of an ugly outburst at the host broadcaster. The trigger? A Ravichandran Ashwin delivery going over Dean Elgar's stumps according to ball-tracking.
"You should find better ways to win, SuperSport," Ashwin was heard saying after the on-field lbw decision was reversed.
"Focus on your team as well when they shine the ball... not just the opposition. Trying to catch people all the time!" Virat Kohli, then the India captain, bent over and said into the stump mic.
"Whole country playing against eleven guys!" KL Rahul chimed in soon after.
It was a moment of desperation for India that spun out of control, and also "played nicely into our hands" according to then South Africa captain Dean Elgar.
India have no such thing to get frustrated about this time. There's no series win in sight, for South Africa's victory in the first Test in this two-match rubber meant that they can't lose the series now. The heartbreak this time has preceded their arrival in town, but it doesn't mean India don't have much to look forward to.
There's a lot of damage to undo for India after the insipid bowling performance in Centurion, which was at odds with how good the bowling has been over the last few years. To not be able to put in a good performance on a pitch crying out loud for it must hurt. How that does, or does not, translate into a victory at Newlands will keep everyone hooked.
And so will Dean Elgar's farewell. This second and final Test against India will be the last for the former South Africa captain, whose non-wicket a couple of years ago triggered India into a meltdown rarely seen on the field; and whose 185 in Centurion last week ensured that their aspirations to win a Test rubber in this country remains a pipe dream.
This week will not exactly be what India had hoped for when they landed on these shores, but there's still a match to be won. A victory in Cape Town, a city that hasn't taken to them very kindly in the past, and where they are yet to win a Test, will go a long way in repairing the hurt of the past. And the present.
When: January 2, 2024 onwards, 10:30 AM local/2:00 PM IST
Where: Newlands, Cape Town
What to expect: A full house and midsummer heat, which should take most of the spice out of the pitch. The surface looked less green on Tuesday than it did on Monday. In any case, Newlands tends to offer South Africa's fairest contest between bat and ball. No rain has been forecast for the duration of the match.
South Africa: Temba Bavuma is out with a hamstring strain, so Elgar will captain in his last Test. Keshav Maharaj, whose omission in Centurion was a tactical decision, should be back in place of Gerald Coetzee, who in turn is out with pelvic inflammation.
Probable XI: Dean Elgar (capt), Aiden Markram, Tony de Zorzi, Keegan Petersen, David Bedingham, Kyle Verreynne, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Nandre Burger, Lungi Ngidi
India: Prasidh Krishna, who made his Test debut in Centurion, didn't quite deliver on the goods he promised. The tall height, the hit-the-deck type of bowling which looked suited to surfaces in South Africa saw him return figures of 1-93. He could be replaced by Avesh Khan, who is in line to make his Test debut after being added to the squad in the aftermath of the Centurion defeat. Ashwin should make way for Ravindra Jadeja, who missed the first Test with a back spasm. Shardul Thakur is also doing fine after he was hit on his left shoulder during a net session on Saturday.
Probable XI: Rohit Sharma(c), Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul(w), Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Prasidh Krishna/Avesh Khan
What they said:
"I only play the game to win. I don't care about stats. I care about wins. I care about series wins. Those are the greatest memories you can share with your team and everyone who has an influential role in the background. That's why I play cricket." - Dean Elgar, talking straight to the end.
South Africa Squad: Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar(c), Tony de Zorzi, Keegan Petersen, David Bedingham, Kyle Verreynne(w), Marco Jansen, Kagiso Rabada, Nandre Burger, Lungi Ngidi, Keshav Maharaj, Zubayr Hamza, Wiaan Mulder, Tristan Stubbs
India Squad: Yashasvi Jaiswal, Rohit Sharma(c), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul(w), Ravichandran Ashwin, Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Prasidh Krishna, Avesh Khan, Mukesh Kumar, Ravindra Jadeja, Srikar Bharat, Abhimanyu Easwaran