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Series victory creates questions for King Kohli

Having led his side to a series win over Sri Lanka, India skipper Virat Kohli now turns his attention to South Africa where the side has never won a Test series. (AFP)
BANGALORE: After whitewashing Sri Lanka 3-0 on their own turf just months earlier, India found the home series a much tougher proposition. They battled back to dominate a weather-interrupted match in Kolkata, won by an innings in Nagpur, and were then thwarted by resolute batting in Delhi.
Here, we look at five things we learned as India prepare to face South Africa in the new year.
OPENING GAMBIT
If you’re an opening batsman, South Africa is the last place you want to go. At some venues, the ball can zip around, with the bounce enough to tattoo your helmet. At others, it wobbles around as it does in England. For an opener, Tests in Cape Town, Centurion and Johannesburg offer as thorough a test as is possible. India are fortunate to have three in-form batsmen to choose from, but which one will get the axe? KL Rahul was dropped for the final Test against Sri Lanka after falling victim to what we now call Joe Root Syndrome. In this past 12 innings, Rahul has crossed 50 nine times. His highest score is 90. In sharp contrast, Shikhar Dhawan has two centuries and a 94 in five Tests since his recall. Murali Vijay’s return from injury has seen him rack up 128 and 155 in consecutive Tests. At 25, Rahul represents the future, but the chances are that he’ll be on the bench at Newlands.
MIDDLE ORDER WOES
Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli pick themselves, but who will bat at No. 5 in South Africa? Given that it’s almost certain that Hardik Pandya will play as a hard-hitting No. 6 who can provide a fourth seam-bowling option, it comes down to a straight choice between Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma. Rahane had a horror series against Sri Lanka, scoring just 17 runs. Rohit made 217, including a century in Nagpur. But Rahane is one of those rare players who bats better away (average of 53.44) than he does at home (33.63). Rohit averages a whopping 85.44 at home, and a mere 26.33 away. As vice-captain of the side, Rahane will surely get at least the first Test to restore his reputation. But if his dreadful run continues, Rohit could get an extended run.
ASHWIN OR JADEJA?
As ever on home soil, there was almost nothing to separate India’s spin twins. Ravi Ashwin (pictured) took more wickets — 12 to Ravindra Jadeja’s 10 — but Jadeja had the better average and economy rate. The last time India went to South Africa, Ashwin’s failure to make breakthroughs on the final day of a Wanderers Test that India had dominated until then cost him his place in the side. Jadeja came in and took a six-wicket haul in Durban. But on pitches that don’t aid spin, Ashwin’s greater variations should see him get the nod. Jadeja is better at shutting down an end, Ashwin more accomplished at exposing chinks in batsmen’s technique. Ashwin, though currently out of form, is the better batsman, while Jadeja is probably India’s best all-round fielder. On a dry pitch, both might get to play. But on a green top, it’ll be fascinating to see who Kohli opts for.
PACE ACES
Both of India’s Test wins in South Africa, at The Wanderers in 2006 and Kingsmead in 2010, have come on green-tinged pitches that were expected to aid the Proteas’ quick bowlers. Back then, India could call on Zaheer Khan in his prime, and the mercurial S. Sreesanth. This time, they’re taking five pace bowlers, plus Pandya as a sixth seam option. Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma should get the nod on most pitches, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar coming into the mix if the ball is likely to hoop around corners. Umesh Yadav offers a pacy and skiddy option, while the uncapped Jasprit Bumrah is the wild card. A star of India’s limited-overs sides in the past two seasons, Bumrah has an excellent yorker and a mean bouncer, both delivered with the most ungainly of actions. But he last played a first-class match 11 months ago. Would they risk playing him with a series on the line?
SRI LANKA ON THE MEND
The home series against India, which they lost 3-0, was a nadir of sorts for Sri Lankan cricket. They acquitted themselves so much better in the return. Suranga Lakmal’s accurate seam bowling gave India a big scare in Kolkata, while Dhananjaya de Silva’s magnificent unbeaten 119 — he finally retired hurt with muscle spasms — helped them pull off a creditable draw in Delhi. Dinesh Chandimal batted beautifully for his century at the Kotla, and there was a welcome return to form for Angelo Mathews, who made 111 in the first innings. Lakshan Sandakan held his own against India’s rampaging batsmen, and Lahiru Gamage essayed the stock-bowler’s role to perfection. They beat Pakistan 2-0 in the United Arab Emirates before coming to India, and this 1-0 defeat, against a team that had thrashed them out of sight just months earlier, will feel like another corner turned.

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