Eyes on the sky as India look to fly

Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli in action during a practice session ahead of India-South Africa second cricket test match in Pune, Wednesday, Oct. 9. (PTI photo)

The South Africans, like many visiting teams, got a brutal lesson on why the Indians are such an indomitable force at home after the opening Test at Visakhapatnam. Unlike the 2015 star-studded side which surrendered meekly, the new outfit traded blows with India for nearly four days before being wiped out by a knockout punch on the final morning.

The South Africans were left with gaping wounds, and things will only get tougher for them as Virat Kohli’s men chase a 11th successive series triumph at home with a victory in the second Test of the Freedom Trophy that gets underway at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium here from Thursday.

Since the 2-1 loss to England in 2012, the Indians have lost one Test match in 30 appearances — the sole defeat coming to Australia in February 2017 at this very venue. India’s overwhelming dominance during this period, largely under Virat Kohli’s captaincy, can be attributed to many factors. Their batting has been brilliant, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja is the best spin bowling partnership in the world and to round things off, they have an extremely potent pace attack which has developed skills to succeed on worn-out day four-five surfaces.

Apart from having highly skilled personnel, the quality that really makes India almost unbeatable at home is that they have several men putting their hands up in times of need. There have been instances when the team has been under the pump but someone or the other comes up with a special performance to turn the tide in India’s favour — like Mohammed Shami on the final morning of the opening Test.

The Indians will no doubt start as favourites but they’ll be wary of the pitch — which was rated ‘poor’ by ICC match referee Chris Broad post the shocking 2017 Test against Australia — and the weather.

Pune, just like the majority of the country, has had an extended monsoon and it must have impacted pitch preparation. Although MCA authorities allayed any such concerns, some feel there could be some underlying moisture despite the shaved look and drying procedures over the last two days. This could pose a selection headache for teams. Do they play three seamers or stick with two pacers and two spinners? 

Judging by Kohli’s pre-match statements, it looks like he may field the same playing XI as the first Test. But knowing Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri’s horses-for-courses policy and tendency to tinker with combinations, it won’t be surprising if they unleash Umesh Yadav, who has had wonderful success at home and sweated a long time at the ‘nets’.

South Africa, despite losing the opener, will draw confidence from the way they slugged it out in the middle. Senior pros Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock slammed wonderful tons while skipper Faf du Plessis hit a half-century. Their high-risk approach against Ashwin and Jadeja was laudable, barely letting the duo settle into any sort of rhythm. The onus will be on replicating the same over two innings, a feat that’s extremely difficult in this part of the world.

Du Plessis will also be needing his spinners Keshav Maharaj and Dane Piedt to step up their game. The duo were largely ordinary and them leaking runs heaped more pressure on pacers Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada.

Rain has lashed the city the last couple of evenings and has been predicted to come down during noontime on all match days. India will be hoping it doesn’t dampen their march towards another series triumph while South Africa would be determined to dish out a holistic fight.

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