Virat Kohli will hit the 25-mark as Test skipper when he lead India cricket team into the second Test against Australia at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore on Saturday, but the milestone will be the last thing on his mind.
The 28-year-old, who has led the team by example since he took over after Mahendra Singh Dhoni abruptly quit during the 2014-15 Australia tour, will be anxious to find a way out after the hosts capitulated on a rank turner in the first Test in Pune, losing by 333 runs within three days.
It can’t be a pleasant situation if the home team is forced to scramble for Plan B in its den; and it will be a big challenge as Kohli seeks to find ways to bounce back and restore parity in the four-Test series. Australia have retained the team that routed India inside three days.
India appeared to inflict Steve Smith’s team an ordeal by spin and their own batsmen were expected to brush aside everything the Aussie bowlers would throw at them.
Instead, the roles were reversed in the first Test on a pitch that was later pronounced ‘poor’ by the International Cricket Council following an adverse report by match referee, Chris Broad, a former England batsman.
India will thus need to tackle a few things, not necessarily in this order to regain control in the series.
STOP THE RAMPAGING SMITH
While India’s own batting floundered, dismissed for 105 and 107 in the Pune Test, it was rival skipper Steven Smith’s second innings century that killed any hopes the hosts had to retrieving the game.
The world’s No 1 ranked batsman, Smith hit 109 to leave India facing a 441-run fourth innings target.
In seven Tests against India, Smith has aggregated 1066 runs at a massive average of 88.83. His career average is a shade over 60. In 14 innings, he has hit five centuries and three half-centuries.
So, the message for the India bowlers will be clear. Stop the Australia skipper on his tracks.
TACKLE AUSSIE SPIN BETTER
India’s focus ahead of the first Test was off-spinner Nathan Lyon, but it was left-arm spinner, Steve O’Keefe who confounded them by capturing six wickets in each innings, claiming 12/70, the second best figures ever by a bowler in India, just one short of England all-rounder Ian Botham’s haul in 1979-80.
Indian batsmen’s famed handling of spin has been dented, and they have not always showed the same command facing deliveries coming into the right-hander, unlike the ease with which they have faced leg spin. And O’Keefe’s biggest success has been pitching it well up and getting the ball to hold its line.
A LESSON FOR INDIA SPINNERS
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were a handful for visiting batsmen through this home season, helping India win eight of their 10 Tests. But experts faulted their pitching the ball in the good length area rather than further up to take away the option of leaving deliveries. Better control and not turning the ball too much, which beats the bat but doesn’t fetch wickets, has been another suggestion for them.
FOCUS ON INDIA’S LINE-UP
India openers Murali Vijay and KL Rahul have not fired together and that will be key to allow the middle-order to take charge. The pair have just one half-century opening partnership together so far. Whether Virat Kohli will take a tough call to ring in the changes will have to be seen.
Off-spinner Jayant Yadav, the third spinner, is a very useful batsman too but didn’t shine with the ball in the Pune Test. Pace bowler Ishant Sharma may hope for better returns to complement fellow new ball bowler, Umesh Yadav.
India may even add an extra batsman, with Karun Nair, who has sat out since scoring a triple century against England in the fifth and final Test in Chennai, an option to play in his home ground. With Ajinkya Rahane struggling against spin at home, Nair could be seen as the player to attack O’Keefe and Lyon.