South Africa v India, 1st Test, Johannesburg, 3rd day December 20, 2013

Pujara and Kohli defy expectations

The skill and acumen exhibited by Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli in the Johannesburg Test befit batsmen who have had much longer stints in Test cricket

Match Point: 'Pujara, Kohli showed more patience than some veterans'

Cheteshwar Pujara is playing his third Test in South Africa, and his third outside Asia. Virat Kohli is in his first in South Africa, and his eighth outside Asia. The difference in conditions in Asia and elsewhere is huge: the ball bounces more, swings more, and moves more after pitching outside Asia. Despite the extra bounce, the key is to come forward at every possible opportunity. These two batsmen have not played a single first-class match on this tour. If you had taken a sabbatical from cricket, though, and had been doing whatever people do on sabbaticals from cricket, and had been sent to the Wanderers, you would have thought these were two veterans who have been playing Test cricket for 10 years. You might have even thought they were playing at home.

The reality, though, is that nobody had big expectations from them on this tour. People would have lived with failures too, as long as they didn't get out limply. However, to put India in a position to give back what they have been at the receiving end of is absolutely stunning. Think Trent Bridge, Edgbaston and The Oval. Think SCG, WACA and Adelaide Oval. India have been dished out a lot on their previous two away trips. Wonder if MS Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher quietly smiled at each other when Pujara and Kohli were going on the third day, never looking like getting out - that drop by Imran Tahir was against the run of play - building a big lead, grinding the opposition into the dust. The job is not done yet, but this is the kind of day India were dying to experience away from home.

Kohli had announced his arrival in the first innings, but Pujara was unfortunately run out. His turn came two days later. A 36-run first-innings lead was big on this pitch. Many a team would have tried to hit out at the top, and would have been happy had it snuck a defendable lead. Virender Sehwag tried to do that when India won in Durban the last time India were in South Africa. Here, though, India trusted themselves enough, and batted as if they were batting in the first innings. No anxiety, no nerves, just backing their games.

M Vijay's role cannot be overstated. He spent 155 of the most difficult minutes at the wicket, scoring just 39, but he blunted the new ball, and tired the weakened bowling unit in the absence of the injured Morne Morkel. Pujara, he was nearly perfect. He left the short ones well, moved forward whenever it was demanded, and defended solidly. Moving forward is one thing, but still managing to play late is quite another. Pujara did that.

Pujara let Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander blow their steam off, showing great acumen in knowing that the weaker bowlers will arrive at some stage. He knew this was going to be a long day for South Africa, and he wanted to be there to make it even longer. He was 9 off 64 at one stage, but you couldn't say he was struggling. Because he was not. He was waiting. He has done that many times in domestic cricket. His press forward began with a half-volley from Philander, the 65th ball he faced, which he put away for four. He hit two more fours relatively close to each other, but that brought the tea break, at which point he was 39 off 107.

After the break, it was time for a new start. He was restrained again. "We have got all the time, boys." This was proper Test-match batting. Off the next 17 balls he took only six, never mind that JP Duminy and Tahir had begun to bowl. He reached his fifty, and then saw Tahir drop him. About then, Pujara decided it was time to push the advantage. Once Pujara tires down the bowlers and fielders, he punishes every loose ball. Those who have seen him go from 150 to 200 in 17 balls when pushing for a declaration in a Ranji Trophy match, or those who witnessed the march - along with the tail - from 229 to 300 in 55 balls, will hardly be surprised that he went from 50 to 100 in 41 balls.

By the time Pujara does that, he has sussed out the conditions and the bowlers. And he does so with cricketing shots, without feeling the need to go in the air. There are few risks involved. It comes from solid trust in your game and technique. Pujara always had that trust, but it was pleasant to learn that he had the same confidence even in South Africa. This maturity - and that of Kohli - is hard to find in batsmen even on their third or fourth tours. On that count, these two have surpassed many an expectation.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy on December 21, 2013, 16:27 GMT

    Period. We Indian fans hoped this to happen but ready for failures. Touch wood the youngsters clicked. Seniors performed when young. C'mon everyone gets aged. Don't undermine the influence of seniors on present day players. The batsmen had grown to perform without the seniors presence. The bowlers need Zak. They will also grow.all may also fail. As long as the intention is right the results will follow.kudos to ish vijay for their contributions. Shami too. Surprised to see people still deriding that if India can sa can also. Good wishes. If it happens it will be a great test. Good for cricket

  • Suresh on December 21, 2013, 11:56 GMT

    Just imagint where would be india with their seniors it would hove finishd the match ofcurse with a lose at hand these youngs have turned on india now no matter even if it is SA

  • RAJARAMAN on December 21, 2013, 8:10 GMT

    It is becoming increasingly clear that India's 8-0 loss overseas were due to the wholesome failures of the seniors ... it is heartening to see young guns take over the mantle so willingly ... this augurs for some more good tours ahead ... well done India

  • Ramesh on December 21, 2013, 6:08 GMT

    Pujara always looked good, even in the first innings...just that he got unlucky with that run-out. I am confident he would fill-up the great WALL's role easily.

    To talk about the match, I think its all about ZAK's comeback...and he made the difference !! Thus the bowling attack improved, and thus building confidence to simple as that...I would give all the credit to ZAK...lately, he is pioneering India's bowling attack, atleast in in tests

  • Naresh on December 21, 2013, 6:04 GMT

    After the ODI's we had SL and Pak fans saying "flat track bullies" , cant make 100's only in India, whitewash. Where are they? Its a funny game you win some and lose some. Dont just write teams off comment with sensibility. Indian cricketers are passionate with their game and the fans as well. We are still to win the job is not complete but we have adged ahead. We dont have the greatest bowling unut in the world - we know that.

  • murali on December 21, 2013, 5:56 GMT

    I have to say seen his dedication in this money world and numerous match winning innings from Kohli and i being indian never loked him may because of his character but dh shape which he batted here after outplaying in odi's is superb now i started to like him atleast trying

  • Dummy4 on December 21, 2013, 5:54 GMT

    Credit also needs to be given to Duncan Fletcher and MSD for the batting strategy and instilling motivation among these young batsmen. MSD has waited patiently for about 2 years for the seniors to move on and now is reaping the rewards of having "his" team. Now the South Africans will be happy that it is a two test series and not a three test one , as planned earlier for it would have meant more egg on their face!!! This tour is certain to silence the likes of Cullinan, Donald, Steyn, Philander, etc, once for all, when it comes to analyzing the Indian team.

  • Venkat on December 21, 2013, 5:49 GMT

    @humdrum, good one on the rocket, he he.

  • Umesh on December 21, 2013, 5:48 GMT

    It is said that an army of sheep lead by a lion will easily defeat an army of lions lead by a sheep. My implication is not at all on the teams, the Indian team is a totally fearless one, but really it is on the captains.

    What's there with Dhoni that for such a long time his teams have done amazingly well and have been so exciting to follow. Many management books have been written taking cues from great sportsmen. Surely people must have analyzed Dhoni too. He is one wicked smart captain.

  • Dummy4 on December 21, 2013, 5:34 GMT

    Well...Why can't India play in ODIs the same team, barring 1 or 2 minor changes (e.g. bringing Jadeja in/Zaheer out) as in this Test? It has the right balance to continue India's dominance in ODIs too.. big stroke-makers, those provide solidity when needed and also up the ante when the time comes..! MSD/Selectors should try this in near future as the next world cup is going to be in Aus-NZ.