Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli will captain India for the first time on home soil when taking on South Africa in the first Test match. Getty Images

India’s cricket team will play host to their first Test match on home soil in two years when their four-match series with South Africa gets underway in Mohali on Thursday. And, after losing both their Twenty20 and One-Day series against the same opponents, India will be seeking a much-needed boost.

There will be a change in the leadership of the side, with limited-overs captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni having relinquished his authority over the Test team last year. Thus the first Test will also represent the first time that Virat Kohli will captain India at home, two months after he led his side to a 2-1 victory in Sri Lanka. With the match also getting underway on Kohli’s 27th birthday, it will be extra memorable.

“It will be an exciting and special for me when I take field in my first home game as captain,” he said at his pre-match press conference, according to the Indian Express. “Secondly it’s my birthday as well so it doubles up the excitement.”

Kohli will guide a team that has undergone significant changes since they last played a Test in home conditions. As well as the absence of Dhoni, this will be the first Test in India since the retirement of batting great Sachin Tendulkar. With those veterans gone, it is now a much younger side, and one with more experience of playing away from India, that Kohli will attempt to lead to victory.

Kohli’s mark was felt on the captaincy in Sri Lanka with the decision to field five bowlers and one less batsman. And he has strongly suggested that he will opt for the same formula against South Africa.

“I certainly believe that a bowler wins you a Test match,” he added. “Batsmen can hardly get you a Test match from a difficult situation, if you are chasing. More often than not, it’s the bowlers who eventually out you in that position when you have to chase a small total. So bowlers’ role is more important than batsmen in Test matches.”

Kohli’s bowling attack will be strongly boosted by the presence of Ravichandran Ashwin. The off-spinner has recovered from a side strain suffered in the opening One-Day International last month that ruled him out of the rest of the series. India went onto lose the series 3-2, and they now face a challenge going up against South Africa’s Test team, currently ranked No. 1 in the world.

Their impressive record is set to be put to the test, though, in conditions that are expected to be more favorable to India than those seen in the limited-overs matches. That comes after some complaints from the India side that the pitches offered up weren’t tailored to India’s traditional strengths of spin bowling.

South Africa’s bowling attack, led by the world’s top ranked Test bowler Dale Steyn, is based more on pace than spin. And their limited spinning options have suffered a blow with all-rounder JP Duminy ruled out of the first Test with a hand injury. Still, South Africa have shown an impressive ability to adapt to differing conditions in the past, and Steyn is in confident once again.

“I think we come in to the series with a lot of expectations after winning the T20s and ODIs,” he said, reports The Times of India. “So we've got confidence on our side. Cricket's cricket. It's very difficult to say who is favorite but we're up for it.”

First Test schedule (EST):
Wednesday, Nov. 4 to Sunday, Nov. 8, play starting at 11 p.m. each day

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