Test of character for Team India

Test of character for Team India

Cricket : Toss could be crucial as hosts look to bounce back; Karun Nair likely to come into eleven

Test of character for Team India
Just over a week ago, Steve O’Keefe’s was a face that would be lost in a crowd. But then a week can be too long in cricket. His 12 wickets in Pune not only ended Australia’s 13-year wait for a Test win in India but have also catapulted him into instant stardom.

The left-arm spinner was seen basking in his new-found glory with more than a handful of fans clicking selfies with him and getting his autograph on Friday, the eve of the second Test here. Despite a long practice session on a hot afternoon, O’Keefe obliged each fan with a readymade smile and genuine humility. He even offered water bottles to security men on the way to the dressing room, showing his kinder side.

 The pitch at the Chinnaswamy stadium, however, isn’t going to be so kind to the New South Welshman. Traditionally, Bengaluru surface has seen big scores being piled on in the first innings that set the agenda for the rest of the match. Spinners may still come into play in the first innings but they wouldn’t be as threatening as they were in Pune as the curators here have left enough amount of grass on the pitch to hold it together for a longer period before it bakes and breaks under the harsh sun. In that sense, winning the toss and batting first here becomes crucial.

 With the promise of a good bounce at least in the first few hours of the match, the home batsmen will have to be prepared to weather the Mitchell Starc storm should India bat first. The left-arm fast bowler proved dangerous even on the Pune’s raging turner with his extra pace and movement off the pitch and he can be even more lethal on a track that is a bit more helpful to his type of craft. Not to forget his familiarity with the conditions at Chinnaswamy as he was part of the Royal Challengers Bangalore for two full seasons.

Therefore, the onus will be on India’s openers M Vijay and K L Rahul to provide the team a good start. Vijay should summon his staying power while Rahul will need to show more prudence and not throw away his wicket in a moment of rush of blood like he did in the first Test. While skipper Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara would be expected to quickly shrug off their rare failure in Pune, Ajinkya Rahane needs to justify his place which he is occupying at the expense of triple centurion Karun Nair.

There could be some rejigging on the bowling front with the likelihood of India going in with three pacers, Bhuvneshwar Kumar coming in place of Jayant Yadav who had a poor game in Pune. But if the team management prefers to stick with three-pronged spin combination, Ishant Sharma may be nudged out to include Bhuvneshwar. India might also opt for 7-4 combination by including Nair in place of Jayant.

Australia’s morale is obviously high but they realise there’s still plenty of work left before they could retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Going by the appearance, Australian skipper Steve Smith suspected the pitch to behave like the ones that were on play during England’s tour of India last year. Both Indian batsmen and spinners made merry on those surfaces with pacers making just enough impact to rattle England into submission (4-0).

Australia, unsurprisingly, have already decided to go with an unchanged side that they put up for the first Test. While the confidence of spin duo Nathan Lyon and O’Keefe will be obviously high, they will also be going into the match with increased expectations -- an unusual experience for Aussie spinners in these conditions. Just how well they cope with that pressure to perform on a surface that is expected to play better than the one in Pune, will influence Australia’s fortunes. The tourists are also banking on the good vibe here where they have a better head-to-head winning record (2-1) against the hosts.