Johannesburg: Looking to salvage pride in the third Test beginning in Johannesburg on Wednesday, team India got down to business at the Wanderers on Sunday with a practice session that lasted just under four hours.
India had lost the first Test in Cape Town by 72 runs, and then were beaten in the second match at Centurion by 135 runs to surrender an unassailable lead.
The players enjoyed three days off after that hurtful loss, taking time to visit various safari and theme parks in and around Johannesburg.
On Sunday, they were back sweating in the nets, in a bid to end this series with their heads held high as the world's No 1 Test ranked side.
Noticeably, skipper Virat Kohli, who had a fiery press conference in aftermath of the Centurion loss, was in a jovial mood as he chatted around with his teammates and local net bowlers during practice.
After a customary warm-up game of football, the players got down to working on their skill sets.
Fielding coach R Sridhar was the first to put in a serious shift, with Parthiv Patel, KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane working together as the slip cordon. Later, Rohit Sharma and Dinesh Karthik joined in as the trio moved to batting nets.
On practice wickets, Rahul, Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara took first strike against the net-bowling duo of Shardul Thakur and Navdeep Saini, who arrived at the team hotel late on Saturday evening.
The nets were arranged as pacers, throw-downs and spinners respectively, and Pujara duly smacked the local spinner for what can only be described as two sixes.
Vijay and Rahul also opened up in the spin-bowling nets, and hit a few big shots. Prominently, Vijay hit Ravindra Jadeja out of the park and then was bowled the very next ball, with a bit of cheeky banter between the two.
Ravichandran Ashwin bowled to them in the same nets as well. Rahul suffered a blow to his left knee during the first stint and put an ice pack on it. He batted again though, shrugging off any worries for the moment.
Interestingly enough, Rahane – left out of the playing XI for the first two Tests – padded up next and lined up along with Kohli and Hardik Pandya in what could be the suggestive middle-order in the upcoming third Test.
While the all-rounder opened up with some big hits as per his natural style of play, both Kohli and Rahane looked solid against pacers. When they batted, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami even bowled with new Kookaburra balls.
Vijay, Pujara, Rahul, Kohli and Rahane had double stints in the batting nets. They took turns; whilst Vijay, Rahul and Pujara batted, Kohli and Rahane loitered around for a while before taking up turns against pacers and throw-downs again.
Dinesh Karthik later batted in tandem with Kohli, while Rahane finished up last against throw-downs from assistant coach Sanjay Bangar.
In the interim, Rohit – along with Shikhar Dhawan – was among the last group of batsmen to take strike. Patel batted ahead of Karthik in the roster order, and worked on facing the short-ball with Pandya assisting him with throw-downs from a shortened distance.
Among the bowlers, Ashwin, Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah batted in the nets, whilst Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav had handled the pace bowling duties in the middle part of the session.
Thakur and Navdeep Saini closed out proceedings as well.
Three days ago, it was tough to make out the match-wicket from the square, but on Sunday, ample grass had been shaved off the pitch.
It retained enough green hue, however.
"I have left sufficient green grass on it and I will not be shaving it off again before the match. We will be watering it again before the game. Unlike Centurion, there is no chance of sun burning out this grass because the ground is well watered," Wanderers' chief curator Bethuel Buthelezi told PTI.
The Indian batsmen came a cropper against South Africa's pace attack in the preceding Tests.
"I have listened to the demands of the South African team and prepared this pitch accordingly. There won't be any spin available here, but there will be ample pace and bounce for which this ground is well known.
"There will also be some lateral movement on account of the grass. Unlike 2013 (when South Africa and India contested a thrilling draw), this is a more result-oriented pitch," Buthelezi added.
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