No peace for the pitch

Times Media


IT was never a good idea to hijack the names of two of the greatest proponents for peace to market something as violent as a test series.

But suits will be silly and here we are in Mohali on the first day of the grandiosely titled “Mahatma Gandhi-Nelson Mandela Series” between India and SA.

Virat Kohli, India’s captain, seemed to take at best a dismissive and at worst a dim view of the cheapening of those two giants’ legacies on Wednesday when he was asked in Hindi – and translated helpfully for the linguistically lacking – “whether we will adapt an aggressive way to play in this series, or whether we would be following them (Gandhi and Mandela)”.

So, which will it be?

“Those people had their strengths and they led in that particular way,” Kohli said. “We have our strengths and we are different individuals.

“We will follow that and that (the series’ name) has nothing to with the kind of mindset we’re going to play with.”

Asked something similar, Hashim Amla said, “I think we know the way South Africans play, whether it’s under me or Graeme (Smith).

“We try and play tough cricket on the field. There’s no need to look further than that.”

Indeed, there isn’t. So go easy on the marketing mayo. And perhaps on all this prattle about the pitch, which has been predicted to turn like Michael Jackson on a bottle-top.

“Whenever we travel abroad there’s never been any focus on the pitch,” Kohli said. “The focus has always been how we are going to struggle against their bowlers or how our bowlers are going to be hit around the park.

“So I don’t really care what’s been said or written. We just have to go out there and play cricket with a bat and with a ball; nothing else matters.”

Amla was on the same page: “If you come to SA you’re probably going to have a South African type of wicket. As a player, I expect wherever I go in the world that the conditions will suit the home team.

“Spectators and sometimes associations want games to go five days, so not everything the players want gets taken into consideration.

“That doesn’t really matter to us. The best thing for us to do is to prepare for what we think we’re going to come across, and then leave it to the game.”

Not only will Kohli captain India at home for the first time in a test, he is also celebrating his 27th birthday on Thursday.

“The only thing that has changed (since he became captain) is that I have 40 grey hairs in my beard,” Kohli said.

That and his batting average, which is 63.27 as captain thanks to the four centuries he has scored in his six tests in charge. Previously, he averaged 41.13.

When Amla was in the ranks his average was 51.35. In eight tests as captain it is 69.50, and the 823 test runs he has scored in India makes him SA’s most successful batsman here. But, on this tour, he has eked out 128 runs in eight innings.

“When you don’t get runs under your belt you feel a big one could be around the corner,” Amla said.

“You try and keep the same intensity and workload at training to make sure you keep doing what you were doing when you were getting runs. Hopefully, when the time comes you do get a big one.”

That time has come.


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