IND vs SA: Weather, pitch in focus as India looks to seal series

With the region witnessing heavy downpour over the past fortnight, it remains to be seen how the wicket will behave for the second Test between India and SA.

Virat Kohli during a practice session on the eve of the second Test at the Maharashtra Cricket Association stadium in Pune on Wednesday.   -  Vivek Bendre

The weather forecast for the next few days is not too bright – with thunderstorms and rain predicted – as India squares off against South Africa in the second Test, starting here from Thursday.

The Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA) officials, however, are confident that the facilities at the Gahunje Stadium, which has a sand-based outfield and good drainage facility, will pass the rain test.

With the region witnessing heavy downpour over the past fortnight, it remains to be seen how the wicket will behave and whether the game will last the entire duration of five days. In the last Test match, played here in 2017, Australia managed to spin out India inside three days. The strip, eventually, was given a ‘very poor’ rating by the International Cricket Council.

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Veteran curator Pandurang Salgaocar — who was dragged into a sting operation in 2017 and was eventually suspended for a while — is back to take care of the wicket and the BCCI have tried their best to ease concerns about the pitch.

But keeping the rain factor and history in mind, both the teams look apprehensive when it comes to picking the right combination.

Strong batting

While India captain Virat Kohli insisted that a decision on the final eleven will be taken on the match day morning, he did not rule out the fact that the moisture in the pitch could give some encouragement to the pacers.

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“If there’s a bit of moisture that’s gone into the pitch, yeah it should be a good pitch to play on for seamers initially, and ball does tend to turn here and batsmen for first two days tend to get runs here with quick outfield,” Kohli said on the eve of the fixture. “We will have to play good cricket regardless of how the pitch plays,” he added.

Openers Rohit Sharma and Mayank Agarwal, who came good in the first Test, relax after a training session in Pune on Wednesday.   -  Vivek Bendre

 

After a one-sided 203-run win over South Africa in the first Test, the host is certainly high on confidence.

With Rohit Sharma in perfect zone after striking twin tons in his first Test as an opener and Mayank Agarwal helping himself to a double century, the batting department appears strong. The Indian team management would be hoping for the two to come good again.

“If there’s a bit of moisture that’s gone into the pitch, yeah it should be a good pitch to play on for seamers initially, and ball does tend to turn here and batsmen for first two days tend to get runs here with quick outfield.” — Virat Kohli

At home conditions, India, under the leadership of Kohli, has delivered top-notch shows in the recent past. With the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara and Hanuma Vihari in its ranks, India does have a heavy duty batting line up to take care of things, even in tougher situations.

Bowling combination

However, for India, the biggest challenge will be be to pick the right bowling combination in a rather tricky track. It managed to seal the game in Visakhapatnam, courtesy its two spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, and seamer Mohammed Shami.

But with the unpredictable Gahunje surface, captain Kohli has to take a smart call in a bid to extend the team’s cent per cent winning record in the ICC World Test Championship.

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South Africa, on the other hand, has plenty to ponder. Despite Dean Elgar showing resilience in the first Test, the Proteas failed to make an impact on the last day and eventually surrendered meekly.

The biggest problem for the touring side has been its bowling. With Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander failing to make an impact, the Proteas has not been able to throw any challenge to India’s top-order. Even though spinner Keshav Maharaj grabbed five wickets, it was not enough to put brakes on India’s innings.

So, when the young side takes the field in Pune, it will be a challenge for skipper Faf du Plessis to inspire the team and shrug off the disappointments from the first Test.

Match starts at 9.30 am