Fast bowling vs spin is likely to be the contest that decides this intriguing Test series between India and South Africa.

With India packed with three slow bowlers – R Ashwin, Amit Mishra and Ravindra Jadeja – South Africa can expect a trial by spin, provided the wickets that the curators prepare for this exciting series come with that turn that will make Virat Kohli smile.

For the first Test match, which begins on Thursday, much of India's potency with the ball will depend on the fitness of R Ashwin, who was instrumental in his team's victory over Sri Lanka in August.

Ashwin sat out the final four ODIs against South Africa with a side strain, but has remained confident of making it in time for Mohali.

Without Ashwin, India's edge certainly gets blunted quite a bit, so Kohli will hope his main man recovers in time to possibly cause problems to the South Africa batsmen.

The other main decision for India and Kohli to make will be the composition of the playing XI – whether to go with six batsmen, a wicketkeeper and four bowlers or possibly play one of Stuart Binny or Ravindra Jadeja – depending on the nature of the pitch – instead of that extra batsman, as the fifth bowling option, even if it does lighten the batting lineup a little.

With Cheteshwar Pujara showing what a valuable asset he can be, Kohli has another tricky decision to make, as bringing in the right-hander will mean dropping both KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan (if Pujara opens) or Rohit Sharma (is he goes in at No.3), the man who has been backed to the hilt by the Test skipper and Ravi Shastri.

That problem of plenty will be solved to a great extent if India decide to go with six batsmen, but the feeling is Kohli is likely to back the five-bowler/four-bowler plus one all-rounder theory again.

These are all good problems for India to have, with the pace attack – likely to be taken up by Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron for the first Test, with Ishant Sharma suspended – also set to play a key role.

Of course, there is no comparison between India's pace attack and South Africa's with the away team's list consisting of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada, the youngster who impressed one and all with his performances in the limited-overs leg of the Freedom Series.

South Africa are likely to back their pace attack to do the job for them, even in India, which means one of Simon Harmer, Dane Piedt and Imran Tahir will play the first Test match.

South Africa's batting certainly looks a lot more formidable than India's but the key aspect, again, will be how they cope with the spin threat. If India can gain an early stranglehold on the series via that spin, Kohli might just earn his first series victory at home as captain.

Squads: India (first two Tests): Virat Kohli (C), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Wriddhiman Saha, Stuart Binny, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Ishant Sharma.

South Africa: Hashim Amla (C), Stiaan Van Zyl, Dean Elgar, Faf Du Plessis, AB De Villiers, JP Duminy, Temba Bavuma, Dane Vilas, Simon Harmer, Dane Piedt, Imran Tahir, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada.