Virat Kohli’s Team India, bereft of their pace spearhead in Ishant Sharma, harnessed the spinner-friendly Mohali pitch to twice bowl South Africa out cheaply, and go onto win the game by a mammoth 108 runs. The margin of victory was indeed huge, taking into account that it was a low-scoring game, in which the highest score in all 4 innings of the Test match was a paltry 204. India’s victory has given them a 1-0 lead in the 4-match Test series, with the second Test scheduled to begin at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru tomorrow.
On a pitch less favorable for batsmen, India had Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja (in the first innings) making crucial contributions with the bat, that ultimately proved to be the difference between the sides. South Africa, on the other hand, had a solitary half-centurion, AB de Villiers, in both the innings and their batsmen just could not stitch together any meaningful partnerships that might have stymied the vicious Indian spin trio of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra.
Indian spinners took 19 of the 20 South African wickets in the Mohali Test, with Varun Aaron, of the Indian seamers, picking the 1 wicket in the second innings. Umesh Yadav went wicket-less, and the two Indian seamers bowled only 20 overs – 14 of which came in the first innings – in the Test match altogether. With the spinners being the most likely to win India the Test, Kohli, who loves his fast bowlers and them being at the face of the batsmen, decided to throw the new ball to the spinners, in both the innings, to make life even more harder for the visitors. On a dry and slow pitch, spinners bowling with the brand new SG ball, which boasts of the pronounced seam, are more likely to cause problems for the batsmen, who also find the spinners harder to negotiate early on in their innings than later on when the ball gets a little older and does not carry the same venom. Kohli tried to play on that aspect of the game, and it proved to be a tactical master-stroke in the end.
India’s 5-man bowling attack in Mohali was bereft of its spearhead in Ishant Sharma, who served his 1-match suspension for his antics in India’s series-clinching victory against Srilanka at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) back in September. With his expected return to India’s playing XI for the Bengaluru Test starting on Saturday, which Indian bowler who played in the Mohali Test will make way for Ishant Sharma in India’s playing XI for the Bengaluru Test against the Proteas? Should Kohli stick with the three spinners who won India the last Test?
Answers to those questions and much, much more to follow…
Before the Bengaluru Test begins, Kohli and the Indian team management have to take a nice, hard look at their bowling combination. Kohli’s preference to play 5 bowlers was once again clear in the Mohali Test, in which he could well have gone with 6 batsmen and 4 bowlers, and Wriddhiman Saha as the wicket-keeper. Though the inclination to play 5 genuine bowlers worked so well for India in the Mohali Test, Kohli has a difficult decision to make before he hands over the team sheet to the match referee for the Bengaluru Test.
With the amount of rain that has been around during the last week, it remains to be seen how the Bengaluru pitch looks on the 1st morning of the Test match. But its nature could well decide if Kohli goes in with 3 seamers, possibly leaving out Amit Mishra, who utterly bamboozled de Villiers with his slider in both the innings and, overall, bowled well in the Mohali Test. The diminutive leg-spinner played a peripheral role, however, in India’s bowling scheme of things, with Ashwin and Jadeja bowling the vast majority of the overs – 68 of the 108 overs India needed to twice bowl out South Africa – in both the innings.
Looking back at the Mohali Test, not only did the spin trio of Ashwin, Jadeja and Mishra bowl really well, but they also got into the psyche of the South African batsmen, most of whom got out to straight deliveries from the Indian spinners and therefore, could not blame the pitch for losing their wickets. If Kohli does decide to stick with the 3 spinners who played in Mohali, it would mean that either Yadav or Aaron makes way for the incoming Ishant, who picked his Test career’s first 5-for at this very venue, against Pakistan back in 2007.
Aaron picked the solitary wicket, of the Indian seamers, whose respective performances, however, did not throw too many takeaways. It would also be harsh on either of them to be left out of the Bengaluru Test, for which we expect the pitch to have something in it for the fast bowlers. Yadav and Aaron could have a much bigger say on proceedings than they managed in Mohali, where, in the 20 overs they bowled in the 2 innings, the pitch offered them little to have the sort of impact Yadav and Aaron, two of India’s current crop of ‘fast’ bowlers, would have envied.
It, obviously, is an extremely tough choice Kohli has to make, ensuring that his decision does not boomerang later on in the Test. Aaron was the slightly better of the two Indian seamers in the Mohali Test, compared to Yadav, who, therefore, might have to sit out the Bengaluru Test in the best interests of the team.
While they struggled to get their batting combination right in the five-match One-Day International (ODI) series, India now face the problem of getting their bowling combination right for the Tests. The nature of the pitches for the upcoming Tests will definitely have a say on the number of spinners or seamers India go in with. But, having seen their spinners totally flummox the South African batsmen in the Mohali Test and even create a self-doubt in the visitors’ ranks, Aaron or Yadav, as the seamers, may be forced to sit out the Bengaluru Test, for the returning Ishant, and the axe could well fall on the latter.