17 July 2018 07:40 AM

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ROHIT SANKAR | 28 NOVEMBER, 2017

Stable Top Order Holds Hope for India in South Africa

Stable Top Order Holds Hope for India in South Africa


Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli. The cream of India's Test batting line-up came to the fore against Sri Lanka at Nagpur with their breathtaking respective milestones further underlining India’s dominance over the hapless Sri Lankans.

But that is old story already.

The World knows what India can do at home. Countless teams have come to the sub-continent and suffered at the hands of the Indian juggernaut, who rule the roost in this part of the World.

Then again, the run fest at Nagpur is reassuring for Indian fans. With the team set to travel to the Rainbow Nation, they need their best batsmen to hit the straps before the big tour.

The last time India travelled to South Africa, their best batsmen were Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Murali Vijay.

Pujara took on the sharp Protea pace bowlers with his defensive mechanism - sturdy footwork, large ounces of concentration and immaculate judgement outside the off-stump.

Vijay, as his nickname 'Monk’ symbolises, was a pleasure to watch at the top of the order, negotiating the new ball, roughing it up for the middle-order to play around easier and displaying tremendous patience and resilience expected of on such wickets.

Virat Kohli was sublime, taking on the pace bowlers, keeping the scoreboard ticking and rallying together the batting line-up in tough conditions.

Yet, India lost.

That the triumvirate had batted quite well faded off in the shadow of the loss. As the Indians set foot on South African shores yet again, the form of the three top order batsmen augers well for them. Breaking the South African jinx is no easy task and would take a herculean effort from the batsmen.

Murali Vijay, dumped for Shikhar Dhawan rather unfairly in the first Test at Kolkata, showed why he should be an automatic selection in this format of the game with his sound technique and sheer temperament at Nagpur. The Tamil Nadu batsman is in a class of his own when it comes to opening the batting in Tests but has had a rough deal from the selectors and management.

That he was omitted from the Test side for Kolkata despite a rousing hundred for Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy just a few days before the match did not go down well with fans. The green tinged pitch at Eden Gardens screamed for Vijay’s inclusion. Yet Dhawan and Rahul were preferred. India paid the price and that should rightly serve as a reminder for including Vijay at the top every single time in this format.

Pujara and Kohli are as different as day and night. Kohli's intensity and intent are unmatched while the same goes for Pujara's tenacity and resolve. Together, the duo are beastly, with an ability to suck the air out of opposition attacks with contrasting styles.

As a pair, the duo have notched up 2000 runs in 41 Test innings’ at an average of 50.00, including five century partnerships.

At Nagpur, Pujara played second fiddle to a rampant Kohli who went completely berserk while notching up his fifth Test double hundred. The skipper was tireless and eased to his milestone against a weak, lacklustre Lankan bowling attack.

Pujara was in no way trying to emulate his partner. His role was different. Playing out time is what Pujara is best at and his resilience irks the most patient of bowlers. The Suarashtrian is aware that matching Virat Kohli is near impossible.

“The way he [Virat Kohli] started off, if there was some other batsmen, I don’t think they could have started in the same way. It’s his confidence and the way he is batting, in the last two-three years. It would have been difficult for any other batsman to score with such a strike rate”, the no.3 batsman had commented on Virat Kohli's innings.

It is this kind of contrasting plans that make the Vijay - Pujara - Kohli trio an indispensable force in the Test side, particularly for bigger challenges overseas. Apart from the three and Rahane, whose recent form is wavering, India do not boast of a lot of well equipped batsmen in the Test line-up to counter the Proteas seamers.

As individuals, all three are important to India. But it is a brick wall that the Indians seek to form with the triumvirate in South Africa; one which allows nill seepage and counter-attacks the flow with sturdy partnerships. Against a daunting pace attack comprising of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander, the Indian batting would be put to a litmus test.

If Vijay can counter the early seam movement alongside whoever partners him at the top, the wear and tear on the Kookaburra would bring the likes of Pujara and Kohli into play. Pujara's job would be to weather out the Proteas seamers while Kohli milks them at the other end. At 3 and 4, they could form a potentially dangerous pair in the Test line-up. If Rahane can join the party, the wall would further be sealed tight.

But it really is the top order that needs to put the Proteas on the back foot. Brushing aside the Lankans would come to nothing if these record-breaking willow wielders cannot do a repeat of the same - in a miniscule manner at least - in the Rainbow Nation.
 

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