India v South Africa: Virat Kohli's barren 2019 spell in focus as hosts look to set Pune record straight

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Kohli has not had the best year. Image - BCCI/Twitter.

A record 11th home series win on the bounce is on offer for India as the hosts get ready to take on South Africa in the second and penultimate Test at Pune beginning on Thursday.

Virat Kohli’s men will be desperate to clinch the three-match series which they currently lead by 1-0 after a comprehensive 203-run victory in the first Test at Visakhapatnam.

The visitors, however, will not wither away easily as they seek to garner only their first Test win  since January when they beat Pakistan by nine wickets at Cape Town.

India look to make amends for 2017 Pune Test debacle

It is easy to see why India’s record at home can be daunting for any visiting side with the hosts’ last 30 clashes on home soil yielding a staggering 24 wins and five draws. The sole loss, which remains an aberration, came at Pune two years ago with Steve Smith’s individual brilliance pushing Australia to a remarkable triumph at the venue.

That remains the only home blip in Kohli’s Test captaincy so far with the superstar batsman already establishing himself as the most successful skipper the country has seen in the format. It remains the only Test to have been hosted at the Pune ground and as such, Kohli and India will be looking to set the record straight when they take the field against the Proteas.

All eyes, however, will be on what kind of pitch the Pune curator throws up with the 2017 Test turning out to be a minefield for spinners. India won’t really mind an encore given their undisputed supremacy in the spin department. They have two of the best Test spinners – Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja – in the business currently in their arsenal while a third potent option in the form of Kuldeep Yadav waits in the wings.

Visitors mull spin or pace dilemma

There was no where to hide for Piedt at Vizag.

There was no where to hide for Piedt at Vizag.

While India have absolutely no worries in the spin department, South Africa do not have it so easy despite the presence of the highly talented Keshav Maharaj in their ranks. The visitors, in fact, went in with a three-man spin attack in the opening Test at Vizag compared to India’s two and they will now be mulling over whether to retain that same composition.

One of the three slower bowlers picked by South Africa – off-spinner Dane Piedt – had a Test to forget with the ball despite his battling half-century in the second innings. Making his first Test appearance in over three years, Piedt conceded more than 100 runs in each of the two innings while picking up just the solitary wicket in the match.

The Proteas’ strength, traditionally, has been their pace attack and they do have the promising Lungi Ngidi on standby to bolster their bowling ranks. However, with Pune’s only previous Test resulting in a bloodbath for spinners, skipper Faf du Plessis will most definitely be in two minds over including the 23-year-old pacer.

Kohli aims to end barren 2019 spell

KOHLINTON

While Kohli did have a monstrous 2018 in the Test arena with memorable tons in the overseas tours of South Africa, England and Australia, his current year showings have been extremely ordinary by his high standards.

The likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari have all scored big hundreds at some point in 2019 with Rohit Sharma and Mayank Agarwal joining in on the fun in the Vizag Test. Kohli’s best, however, after a total of seven innings has been an unbeaten 76 in the recent tour of West Indies.

The India man has seen his No1 Test ranking usurped by Steve Smith in recent times with the Australian stretching his lead at the top to a whopping 38 rating points in the latest update released by the ICC.

The fierce competitor in Kohli will not doubt be itching to get back among the tons and the India captain will be eyeing a 26th century in the format as he seeks to reestablish his Test credentials.

LIKELY XIs

India: Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma.

South Africa: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Theunis de Bruyn, Faf du Plessis (c), Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Senuran Muthuswamy, Keshav Maharaj, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi/Dane Piedt.

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