Stung by the humiliating defeat in the series-opener, Virat Kohli will face the toughest battle of his fledgling captaincy career when India takes on a resurgent Australia in the second cricket Test starting in Bengaluru on Saturday.
It's not often that an Indian cricket team goes into a home Test match trailing 0-1 and that's exactly what makes the contest at the 'Garden City' even more enticing. Kohli and Co. are like cornered tigers after being hammered in its 333-run defeat against the Australians on a rank turner where unheralded Steve O'Keefe went home with figures of 12 for 70.
With its juggernaut coming to a grinding halt after 19 consecutive victories, it's now time to pick up the pieces. And the team under Anil Kumble's guidance will look to decipher the winning code on a Chinnaswamy track that promises to be slightly better.
The Indian batsmen will have to deal with Australia's newest spin twins Nathan Lyon and O'Keefe while the pace duo of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood is also expected to ask probing questions.
Similarly, the Indians have not yet found a way to get Steve Smith out cheaply and the rival skipper, after his stupendous knock on a devilish pitch, will be itching to get one more. Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja would certainly like to forget Pune as it was one match where they hardly got anything right with fielding bloopers adding insult to injuries.
Another issue would be the effective usage of DRS, something India got terribly wrong in the first Test. Kohli would certainly like to win the toss as it was one of the crucial factors in Pune. The fighter in him will aim to get even with the Aussie bowlers on whom he had feasted during team's last Test tour Down Under.
Skipper Kohli will certainly want batsman Kohli to read Mitchell Starc's reverse swing and O'Keefe's arm balls better than last time. The track is expected to last the distance but the fickle Bengaluru weather will be a concern as there is forecast of showers on Sunday - the second day of the match.
The last Test match against South Africa at this venue back in 2015, was a near wash-out after rain played spoilsport following the very first day.
While the Indian team's positive aspect over the past year has been its bench strength and availability of multiple players at single position, it will be interesting to see what kind of team composition is preferred by the management for this particular game.
Kohli's team combinations, after taking over from Dhoni, have been pretty fluid as no same combination has played in the 24 Tests that he has been at the helm. Expect no different this time as well with one or two changes possible in the playing XI, depending on the pitch, which will be better for batting compared to the one in Pune.
Kohli is an advocate of five-bowler theory which has worked well for India during the last 18 months. However, the Australian spinners exposed home batsmen's vulnerability on a crooked surface which must have led to some doubts creeping into their system.
It will therefore be interesting to see if Karun Nair - India's second ever triple centurion - can make it to the playing XI as an additional batsman who can bowl a few overs of spin. If Karun is selected Jayant Yadav could face axe.
The evident weak link in the last game was off-spinner Jayant, who looked out of sorts in both departments of the game. On a tailor-made pitch for spinners, Jayant gave away 101 runs in only 23 overs with two wickets to show for his efforts.
One shouldn't read too much into his batting effort as it was a collective failure. No one can blame a No. 9 batsman of the team for scoring 2 and 5 when the big guns have failed. If Karun plays, it would mean that India will be playing with four specialist bowlers. Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Umesh Yadav automatically select themselves.
Ishant Sharma didn't bowl badly but as has been the case with him, he ended wicketless with only three overs being given in the second innings. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, with increased pace, new-found ability to reverse swing and capability with the bat, seems a good choice.
Hardik Pandya is a proper all-rounder but his batting abilities in the longest format are still untested. National coach Anil Kumble refused to divulge the playing XI while former captains from either side possess varied viewpoints.
Former India captain Mohammed Azharuddin wants Ishant and Jayant to be dropped while Michael Clarke believes that the lanky fast bowler should be persisted with.
Another person who needs to come good is Ajinkya Rahane, who is getting lot of support from the team management despite a string of poor scores in last five Tests.
Save the 80-odd against minnows Bangladesh on a flat Hyderabad deck, Rahane has had a torrid time of late, starting from the England series. For Australia, an emphatic victory ensures that they can retain the core of the winning combination unless there are injury issues.
Smith would expect that talented opener Matt Renshaw's body holds well. A better batting pitch may prove to be a blessing in disguise as it would then allow David Warner to play his natural attacking game.
India: KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (captain), Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Jayant Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Abhinav Mukund, Karun Nair, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Hardik Pandya and Kuldeep Yadav.
Australia: Matt Renshaw, David Warner, Shaun Marsh, Steve Smith (captain), Peter Handscomb, Mitchell Marsh, Matthew Wade (wk), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Steve O'Keefe, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Swepson, Usman Khawaja, Jackson Bird, Ashton Agar.Read More...
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