Rampaging India eye series wrap, South Africa hope to stay afloat

Pune, Oct 9:

Improving on near perfection would be India’s aim while building on the small positives from a huge loss will be South Africa’s focus when the two mismatched sides clash in the second Test starting here from tomorrow.
Virat Kohli’s men ticked almost all the boxes during their 203-run win in the opening encounter in Visakhapatnam and they would like to maintain the same intensity in their bid to seal the series in Pune itself.
It is difficult to improve upon a perfect show but trust Kohli to find a new challenge for his team in his pursuit of excellence.
It certainly won’t be a bad idea against an opposition which doesn’t have the wherewithal to pose consistent challenge over five days.
Rohit Sharma 2.0’s blockbuster re-entry into Test arena as an opener with twin hundreds was a calculated punt, that worked wonderfully well first up for Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri.
With Mayank Agarwal also showing signs of making every chance count, as he did with his maiden double hundred in Visakhapatnam, India’s opening woes at least (in home conditions) for the next four Tests (two vs Bangladesh next month) could be history for the time being.
The heavy duty batting line-up that also includes Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari would look to make a heftier contribution if the pitch at the Gahunje Stadium aids batsmen.
It was at this very ground that the Indian Test team endured its last batting collapse at home, against Australia in 2017 on a rank turner where off-spinner Nathan Lyon and left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe made lives miserable.
Chances are slim that a pitch of that nature will be on offer for the upcoming game and even if curator Pandurang Salgaokar offers anything remotely close, chances of India, armed with two seasoned spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, might finish it off in less than four days.
The dogged Dean Elgar and the elegant Quinton de Kock have shown a lot of character with their hundreds in the first Test but chances of a Steve Smith like 2017 batting masterclass on a dodgy track may not be possible.
Ashwin, with a match haul of eight wickets, and Jadeja, with his all-round solidity, give this team a menacing look in home conditions.
Also Mohammed Shami’s mastery with the semi new and old ball on dry tracks is slowly attaining legendary status.
One can only hope that Shami remains niggle-free as he was seen hobbling on his run-up in the first innings in Visakhapatnam even though it became better in the second innings. (PTI)