Two outstanding centuries scored by Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara in the first Test against one of the most fearsome fast bowling attacks in the world, has set the tone for Team India, who have plenty of away series’ lined up in the near future where the conditions would be no different.
After losing their first ODI series of the year 2-0 against South Africa, the Indian batsmen had a real challenge up front - to deal with the same fast bowling attack of Steyn & Co. in the longest format of the game, that too in the post-Tendulkar era.
After losing two early wickets within 30 runs on day one of the Johannesburg Test, when Kohli came in to bat, he had a herculean task -- to fill the void left by batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar at number 4. The confident 25-year-old, who has a knack of taking up challenges, once again proved his mettle under adverse conditions, and went on to score a ton. It was the same pitch where no other Indian batsman managed to cross the 30-run mark, apart from Ajikya Rahane who scored 47 runs in the first innings. Kohli’s 119-run innings off 181 balls, laced with 18 boundaries, would have made even Sachin Tendulkar proud. His century on first day of the Test not only took India to a comfortable position (255/5), but also gave the depleted team a much-needed confidence.
Later in the Test, India took a psychological lead of 36 runs in the first innings but the second Indian innings was even more crucial for the visitors. And this time it was Cheteshwar Pujara -- the man trying to fill in the big boots of Rahul Dravid -- who took the responsibility on his shoulders and put a huge price tag on his wicket. He played a crucial knock of 153 runs and along with Kohli, stitched a massive 222-run partnership for the third wicket to take India to a commanding position. The best part about that partnership was they complemented each other well, unlike the first innings, where Kohli’s wrong call led to Pujara being run-out. Pujara was recently named the ‘ICC’s emerging cricketer of 2013’ and he justified and celebrated this tag with a big hundred.
One couldn’t have asked for a better start of post-Tendulkar era. Scoring runs in South Africa against the most dangerous bowling attack is no mean feat. Two players, who are being seen as the successors of two most important figures of Indian cricket, have started proving their credentials right. The duo has everything to carry forward the legacy of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar.
If the 25-year-old Pujara has a temperament of a monk, good defensive technique and determination like his predecessor Dravid, then Virat too has a huge appetite for runs, can play spinners and pacers equally well, and has a knack of scoring runs against any opponent just like Tendulkar.
Considering the fact that Johannesburg Test was Pujara’s third Test in South Africa, and third outside Asia, whereas Kohli was playing his first in South Africa, and his eighth outside Asia, these hundreds speak a lot about these two youngsters.
Kohli and Pujara are quite contrasting in their approach and style of play, very much like Sachin and Dravid. Pujara’s strategy is simple. He spends some time at crease, drains out the bowlers first, and then starts scoring runs -- a simple and traditional style of play, but very effective. On the other hand, Kohli always looks to score from the word go, and hardly leaves a loose ball without scoring runs, even if it’s the first delivery he is facing. Dravid and Tendulkar hold the record for most number of century partnerships (20) in Tests. And these two young lads have all the prerequisites, to surpass this record.
These two tons will certainly boost the confidence of other Indian batsmen as well, especially while playing in away tours, as other newcomers like Shikhar Dhawan, and Rohit Sharma too have the ability to score big knocks on any given surface.
If we talk about the future of Indian Test team, it would not be wrong to say that Pujara and Kohli will be the backbone of Indian cricket, not just because they are playing at such crucial positions, but also because they have that potential and class to take the baton forward with swift and long strides. They understand their role in the team well, and always try and put a heavy price on their wicket, which was evident in the first Test.
These two gutsy knocks – at least for now – show that Indian future is in safe hands.