Virat Kohli faces a sort of litmus Test from Wednesday as the two teams in the Paytm Freedom Series have gird up their lions to resume hostilities on probably a slow turner at the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) Stadium here from Wednesday. There was a lull because of the washout of the second Test in Bengaluru. This may have prevented Kohli from using a distinctly advantageous position at stumps on the first day, on another designer wicket created for the Indian spinners, to take a 2-0 lead.
Kohli, who has always vowed never to take a backward step, will hope that events quickly unfold in his team’s favour at a venue in which South Africa’s reputed fast bowler Dale Steyn bowled a match-winning spell taking 10 wickets nearly six years ago. But, Steyn won't be figuring this time as he has not recovered from a groin injury.
Though he began in a spectacular fashion as captain in Australia with four centuries, and scored a 103 against Sri Lanka in Galle, Kohli would have liked to see better scores than in the three-Test series in Sri Lanka, which India won after a 22-year gap, and also in the Mohali Test. He did not get to bat in Bangalore, but more than the objective and ambition of carrying out consistent undertakings with the bat, he would be anxious to post a clear-cut series win, leading the national team as he is for the first time in a home series.
India was a dominating force at home, before Alastair Cook’s England startled the Dhoni-led Indian team with a 2-1 win in the 2012 series with Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar able to obtain more turn off the wicket than the Indian spinners. But the 4-0 thrashing of Australia and the 2-0 victory over the West Indies put India back in the winning mode, and that’s precisely what Kohli will look forward to from the third Test onwards.
SA look to find answers to spin
Kohli has hinted at following the horses for courses policy and there is every likelihood of playing the wrist spinner Amit Mishra to add variety to the spin attack that already has Ashwin and Jadeja. Responding to a specific question on team composition, Kohli said: "For sub-continental conditions, you will have that sort of spinning all-rounder more often than not fitting in. That will always be an area that we will experiment with. Other than that, we haven’t really chopped and changed too much. It is just the one slot which brings balance to the team, and it must be decided according to the conditions we are playing in. Other than that, anything could be a possibility. Seeing the nature of the wicket, we got to go with a few changes; obviously I won’t disclose it here, that was a good try. We possibly might make a few changes according to the conditions.’’
In the four days of skirmish seen in the series, the home team has come up trumps and with the notable exception of a champion like AB de Villiers, none of the visiting batsmen, including the highly competent Amla, have been able to find answers to the probing and strategy of the Indian spinners. "We have been preparing (simulating situations and finding ways to tackle the spinners) like this for 10 years. We were very much in the first Test till the third day,’’ said Amla, who has an uphill task to find the right team framework without Steyn and Vernon Philander. Probably he is looking to bring in Temba Bavuma. This South African team without Jacques Kallis and an out of form Amla, looks weak.
Responding to a question on the Test series which has been bizarre so far with only four days of cricket played, Kohli said: "Mohali was a positive result for us, but that was a long time back. What happened in Bangalore is something that was not in our control. I remember one fine tour that India had of Sri Lanka. It was a 20 or 22-day tour and only one day of cricket was possible. So it’s not the first time that it’s happening, and certainly not the last time that it has happened because weather is something that we can’t control. What we can control is our practice sessions, and we have had a few and the guys are in good shape, looking in good nick and feeling mentally good about approaching this Test match. That’s the most important thing; what’s gone is gone, we have to look forward to everyday as it comes, starting tomorrow is another opportunity to play good cricket.’’
The teams (from):
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Ishant Sharma, Varun Aaron, Umesh Yadav, Stuart Binny, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, K. L. Rahul and Gurkeerat Singh Mann.
South Africa: Hashim Amla (captain), Temba Bavuma, AB de Villiers, Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis, Jean Paul Duminy, Dane Vilas, Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir, Stiaan van Zyl, Kyle Abbott, Simon Harmer, Dan Piedt, Dale Steyn and Marchant de Lange.
Match officials: Umpires: Ian Gould and Bruce Oxenford; Third: Anil Chaudhary, Fourth: C. Shamshuddin; Referee: Jeff Crowe.