New Zealand v India, 1st Test, Auckland February 5, 2014

Batsmen need to show SA wasn't a one-off

After their unexpected success in South Africa, India's batsmen start the Test series in New Zealand with reputations to maintain

Dravid asks for consistency from Dhawan, Rohit and Rahane

India's Test totals from their trip to South Africa are 280, 421, 334, 223. There is nothing earth-shattering about these numbers. There is only one score over 350. These are not totals that will easily win you Test matches. But these are not totals that will send you hurtling to innings defeats either. These are totals that show you can compete. They show you won't be easily brushed aside. And when you consider the inexperience of the line-up that put them together, against the No 1 Test side, you appreciate the true significance of these scores.

M Vijay, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara had played a handful of Tests outside India before the South Africa tour. Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane were playing their first Tests away from home. Kohli and Pujara came out of the tour with bigger reputations. Vijay and Rahane took important steps towards building theirs. Only Dhawan and Rohit faltered.

Not that it hasn't already been recognised, but in time to come, the magnitude of what this bunch of young men achieved in South Africa will be appreciated even more - especially if they continue to build on that unexpectedly impressive start on their several upcoming tours, starting with New Zealand.

Again, the challenge is daunting. There is plenty of grass on the Eden Park pitch for the first Test. The ball might swing more in New Zealand than it did in South Africa. The overcast skies expected in Auckland for the first Test will further assist Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner and Corey Anderson. Like some of the Indian batsmen, Southee is still a young man but with an already established reputation. The other three are left-hand bowlers of different types. Boult swings it like a banana into the right-handers when the conditions are favourable. The tireless Wagner is at you all day. Anderson is more than a handy fourth seamer, and can get it to dart around and kick off the seam. New Zealand have developed a potent pace attack in home conditions.

How will the Indians tackle them? Vijay went into the South Africa series termed a walking wicket outside off by many. The discipline and patience he showed in leaving deliveries was refreshing. The angles from the three left-armers will be harder to judge and leave. It was only one innings in a practice match against a fringe side in Whangarei, but Vijay fell playing loosely from the crease, and that is a tendency he will have to resist against the swinging ball.

The honeymoon is well and truly over for Dhawan. He was dropped for the decisive fourth ODI in Hamilton. He has the swagger, he has the power, he has the talent. But can he adapt? Can he rein himself in and see out the new, swinging ball? Can he resist having a go at the bouncer? New Zealand might tell us if Dhawan can be a long-term prospect as Test opener.

Pujara and Kohli are men with quite some standing in the game now. Both made hundreds in South Africa. Kohli did it in his first Test innings in the country, and nearly got two in Johannesburg alone. Pujara made one of his big hundreds in the second innings. These two are the drivers of the Indian line-up now, both home and away. That is a huge responsibility to have. Both know how crucial their wickets are, how dearly the opposition wants to send them back early.

"I know now that the opposition wants to get me out," Kohli had said after making an ODI hundred in Napier in his first international innings in New Zealand. "That's why they are going to try to rattle me and try to get me into a fight but that gives me one more reason not to get out."

These words show how much Kohli has matured. Pujara has appeared mature since the time he debuted. It is upto them to make this tour another notable chapter on their journey in international cricket.

Few thought Rahane would punch tall South African fast bowlers for four off the back foot. Rahane was probably the most delightful batting surprise for India in South Africa. No one has held that No 6 position for India for any decent period for years now. A couple of solid knocks on this tour might just seal the slot for Rahane for some time to come.

Rohit's is probably the most interesting case. He was brought down to earth in South Africa after the home highs against Australia and West Indies. Irrational aggression, irrational caution, both led to his downfall. He can be iffy against the moving ball, especially early, and will have to tighten up that aspect, especially if there is cloud cover and Boult is steaming in. In his favour, the longest format does seem to be the one his game appears more suited to.

On the whole, not many teams in cricket are blessed with such an exciting crop of young batsmen. They were expected to fold over on their first collective tour, but surprised the world. The second one is here now, and this time, there are some expectations and reputations to live up to.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments