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India ready to let lose home advantage to prepare for South Africa

India Today logo India Today 21-11-2017 Rohan Sen
© AP Photo

India and Sri Lanka played out a thrilling draw in the first Test of the three-match series at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Even though rain and bad light played spoilsport for the first two days and hampered play on the other three , the match turned out to be a humdinger with all three results possible even on the fifth day.

All this was due to one key factor, the Eden pitch. Sri Lanka won an important toss on the first day and chose to bowl first with the pitch covered with grass and conditions perfect for seam and swing bowling. They made the most of the first two days and skittled out India for 172 in the first innings.

The Indian batsmen, barring Cheteshwar Pujara, struggled to cope with Suranga Lakmal and Dasun Shanaka's pace and swing but then the hosts fought back hard in the second innings after the wicket eased out in the final two days.

Captain Virat Kohli, who bagged a duck in the first innings, led from the front in the second innings and slammed a sublime hundred which gave India the chance to push for victory late on the final day.

Chasing 231 with a little over a session left on Day 5, Sri Lanka eventually managed to hold on to a draw after being reduced to 75/7 as bad light stopped play.

While the Indian batsmen struggled on the pitch initially, the pace bowlers Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav bowled their hearts out and made merry in conducive conditions.

And if reports in the media are to be believed, the Indian team management led by coach Ravi Shastri want similar "greentops and bouncy wickets" for the remaining two matches in Nagpur and New Delhi as well.

The Indian think-tank is doing all it can to ensure that its players are ready for the upcoming South Africa tour in January, where the pitches offer pace and bounce. Even if that takes away the home advantage then so be it.

Shastri and his staff have time and again stated that they want the Indian team to play on challenging wickets so that they can prosper in South Africa, England and Australia. And the three-match series against Sri Lanka provides them with the perfect opportunity to do just that.

Bhuvneshwar, who was the best Indian pacer on display in the Kolkata Test, is not going to play any part in the remaining matches due to personal reasons. That means Shami and Umesh will now have to shoulder most of the responsibility in Bhuvi's absence.

In fact, so dominant was India's pace battery at Eden that their star spin twin, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja bowled a total of 10 overs in the entire match. Ashwin was not even called on to bowl in the final innings while Jadeja bowled just one over.

India's conscious effort to prepare their batsmen for South Africa will mean that Ashwin and Jadeja, who have been Kohli's main weapons in the last two years in Test cricket, might well have to play supporting roles in the rest of the two matches and on the upcoming tour as well.

The decision to play on sporting wickets instead of the usual dust bowls here might just prove to be a masterstroke but only time will tell if Kohli & Co. will still be able to dominate the world class bowling line-up of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel in South Africa.

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