MOHALI: On Wednesday afternoon, ground curator Daljit Singh took journalists on a tour of the pitch. It has been the topic of much discussion with captains Virat Kohli and Hashim Amla unsure how it would behave.
A look at the surface and you can see where the doubts come from. It had a bit of grass, dead, and chances of them being shaved were remote. There were dark patches just outside the crease and it looked dry despite watering. It’s a strip which has not been relaid in 23 years and unlikely to assist pacers. Though chances of spin are huge as the game progresses, the first two days might be good for batting.
Mohali has been an Indian fortress. Barring a loss in 1995, they are unbeaten in 10 Tests here. Javagal Srinath, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, L Balaji, Amit Mishra and Zaheer Khan have had five-wicket hauls, which indicates pacers and spinners both had something to look forward to. So with spin in the air, India are likely to field five bowlers with R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra in the spin department and Umesh Yadav with Varun Aaron as pacers.
Thursday will see Kohli lead the team in a home Test for the first time, on his 27th birthday. He knows they are up against the best side in the world, which did not lose a Test series in India on the last two trips and are unbeaten in 15 away series. “For a young side like us, every series is challenging. We’re looking to climb the ladder of Test cricket. If we focus on plans, I don’t think we need to bother too much about the opposition. We’ll try our best, come back as better batsmen or bowlers and keep climbing the ladder in Test cricket. That is our main goal,” he said.
The riddle for Kohli is selection of batsmen. Cheteshwar Pujara, despite a match-winning century on his last Test, is likely to sit out. Though he batted at nets, he didn’t get an extended run against pacers and had to be content facing net bowlers. Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane faced the regulars. “I believe bowlers win you Test matches. With six batsmen and a wicketkeeper, even if you score 500, the absence of a bowler can cost you. So the top five batsmen should take responsibility of scoring runs,” Kohli said.
South Africa have shown so far they can adapt to Indian conditions and unlike many visiting sides, done well in this part of the world. They are the only side to push India to three innings defeats at home since 1999. To hear Amla say his team won’t crib about pitches showed how prepared they are. They have accepted that tracks would offer spin and are prepared for the worst. “It’s going to be an exciting series. I always believe every country should be different when it comes to home conditions and if it’s going to spin in India, then so be it. That’s what makes cricket fascinating. We’ve created a few histories playing away and to win a Test series in India, which none of us have been part of, would be really satisfying. That’s what we’re working for,” Amla said.