First Test Preview: Dry Mohali pitch should favour India over South Africa
India have played 11 Tests played at the PCA stadium, winning five, drawing five and losing just one.
The last time India played a Test match in India, a certain Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar was saying farewell in front of an emotional crowd in Mumbai in November 2013. After traveling around the world for two years - spanning 17 Tests in New Zealand, South Africa, England, Australia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka - Virat Kohli's men will play a long-awaited Test series in India starting 5 November in Mohali.
South Africa are, by some distance, the No. 1 Test side in world cricket, and considering they have won the T20 and ODI series already on this tour, Ravi Shastri was quick to point out that the visitors are the favourites.
But that’s just Shastri looking to divert attention. Make no mistake, in a Test series at home, India start as favourites every single time. Given the right conditions, and the team playing to its potential, Kohli will be disappointed if his team don’t win the series.
The right conditions could be crucial. Ever since the mauling that Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers handed India on the featherbed at Wankhede in Mumbai, all the talk has been about the pitch in Mohali.
“At home you should play to your strength and there is no need to hide behind that issue,” Shastri said. “It has been happening over the years whenever teams have played in their own countries. It is something that you expect. Teams are doing that in all countries.”
Which means that when Hashim Amla and Kohli walk out for the toss on Thursday, they can expect the Mohali pitch to be dry and play slow despite its reputation for being one of the quicker wickets in the country.
India have played 11 Tests played at the PCA stadium, winning five, drawing five and losing just one. In the last two Tests at the venue, both of them wins against Australia (in 2010 and 2013), the spinners have done the trick for India. In the 2013 Test, 14 of the 20 Australian wickets went to Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Pragyan Ojha. So you can expect Jadeja and Amit Mishra will join Ashwin in the playing XI.
As for the quicker bowlers, the absence of Ishant Sharma due to suspension throws open the option of choosing two from the trio of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron. It is difficult to see Stuart Binny getting a look in with Jadeja slotting in as the all-rounder.
India’s preferred batting lineup in Tests, like Firstpost’s Tariq Engineer wrote in the series preview, is still bit of a mystery. While Shikhar Dhawan struggled in the limited overs matches on this tour, his recent form in Tests has been excellent, with two centuries in his last two Test innings. Not to forget that in the last Test match in Mohali, Murali Vijay and Dhawan put on an incredible opening stand of 289, as Dhawan blazed his way to a century on debut.
Kohli's position at No. 4 is the only certainty in the batting lineup. Kohli, who averages 63.27 in his 11 Test innings as captain with four centuries and a half-century, will be the linchpin of the side.
This will be South Africa’s first Test in Mohali and they are doing their best to prepare for the conditions. "We are expecting the ball to spin on day one, you expect it and then you plan for it," Du Plessis said, singling out Ashwin as the biggest threat in the Indian side.
The form of their Test match captain Hashim Amla has been a concern, but this is the format that Amla thrives in. Amla, du Plessis and the irresistible AB de Villiers are all tremendous players of spin and how they fare in this match will go a long way in deciding the result.
The South African pacers were at the forefront of the team’s maiden T20 and ODI series triumphs on Indian soil and it remains to be seen if they continue to pack their side with fast bowlers and count on their talent trumping the conditions. Or the Proteas could choose Imran Tahir and off-spinner Simon Harmer bowling in tandem.
With four of the last five Tests in Mohali yielding a result (all of them wins for India) and with both teams talking the talk about playing aggressive cricket, the opening match at the Gandhi-Mandela series promises to be a cracker.
Firstpost's playing XIs:
India: Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav,
South Africa: Dean Elgar, Stig van Zyl, Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Dane Vilas, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Imran Tahir.
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