India are likely to play the final two Tests of the Sri Lanka series on pitches helpful for fast bowlers as preparation for the forthcoming South Africa tour, which starts on January 5 in Cape Town. The second Test of the Sri Lanka series will be played from November 24 in Nagpur, and the final Test in Delhi from December 2.
ESPNcricinfo understands that during the Australia ODI series in September, the Indian team management, led by coach Ravi Shastri, spoke to concerned officials in the BCCI and stated that the pitches for the Sri Lanka Tests should act as preparation for the South Africa tour. It is understood that Shastri emphasised that the pitches ought to be "lively greentops", which are "hard and bouncy".
It is also understood that the Nagpur pitch is covered evenly with grass and is expected to retain a greenish tinge when the second Test begins on Friday. According to concerned officials, the role of the spinners is likely to be negligible in the first half of the match, and more effective during the final two days.
Such a request from the team management is unusual only because India have fashioned Test victories at home against oppositions mostly on bald, turning tracks, which assist the spinners from the first day. Incidentally, India had played a Test on a rank turner, during Shastri's time as team director, in 2015 against South Africa. The match ended in three days and was rated poor by the ICC match referee.
However, under Virat Kohli, India are keen to challenge themselves overseas and with Tests lined up in South Africa, England and Australia in the next 18 months, India's players and coaches want to be prepared.
The greentop at Eden Gardens on the first morning of the first Test was a clear indication of the team management's thought process. Although Suranga Lakmal silenced the Indian top order in the first hour on a damp pitch, India, led by their new-ball pairing of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami, nearly stunned the visitors on the final day, taking seven wickets in a little over 26 overs.
After the first day's play was truncated by rain in Kolkata, India's batting coach Sanjay Bangar pointed out that India are now a team which "doesn't really want to play in easy conditions". He said players were "open" to playing on such challenging pitches as it only led to improvement.
On Monday, India opener KL Rahul admitted that such surfaces were a good test for the batsmen. "It's very clear that we're preparing for the next two years that we're going to travel abroad and play a lot of cricket overseas, and we are going to find wickets like this, and it is going to be challenging for all of us, so we wanted to prepare in that way."