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

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

Sidharth Monga in Johannesburg

December 20, 2013

Comments: 46 | Text size: A | A
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.

Cheteshwar Pujara embraces Virat Kohli after bringing up his hundred, South Africa v India, 1st Test, Johannesburg, 3rd day, December 20, 2013
Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli did not come across as batsmen who are still new to overseas conditions in Johannesburg © Associated Press

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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by wapuser 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

Posted by Sbajiya3 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

Posted by ramli 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

Posted by RameshRayaprolu 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

Posted by Naresh28 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.

Posted by pull_shot 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

Posted by   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.

Posted by CricketFanIndUS on (December 21, 2013, 5:49 GMT)

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

Posted by BostonFan 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.

Posted by   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.

Posted by Rufus_Fuddleduck on (December 21, 2013, 5:34 GMT)

To give some perspective to the cusp where Kohli stands today - there are only 5 instances of a player getting two centuries in the same Test in South Africa. Three of them are prior to 1950. The remaining two were scored by Australian cricketers - Ponting and Hughes - during their pomp and decline. Can Kohli add his name to this rarified list?

Posted by BostonFan on (December 21, 2013, 5:04 GMT)

Feels like India's tour of WI in 1971 and the English tour in 1990.

Posted by Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas_Atheist on (December 21, 2013, 4:42 GMT)

Cheteshwar Pujara, now what can I possibly say about your batsmanship? NIRVANA! 9 off 60 plus deliveries and 96 runs in the final session. Cheteshwar Pujara IS Rahul Sharad Dravid v2.0. Period! Now, when will we see this best test batsman of the world in the Indian ODI Team? The world is going to miss a Champion batsman in ODIs if he doesn't get to play in ODIs. As much as it is a loss for Pujara, the world of cricket has a lot to lose if Rahul Dravid v2.0 doesn't get to showcase his talent in ODIs. Take a bow, Pujara! Shame on Dhoni, selectors and coach.

Posted by humdrum on (December 21, 2013, 4:39 GMT)

@BVNaresh: Yesterday,Pat Symcox said that till date no Indian batsman at no 4 (and some big names have batted there he added ) has got two hundreds in the same test,home or away.So Virat is aiming for the moon and stars. @rocket123: A very thoughtful and brilliant keyboard analysis. Appears you have obtained a doctorate in cricket.Way to go,mate.

Posted by Rufus_Fuddleduck on (December 21, 2013, 4:26 GMT)

@spinkingKK, your observation is truly on the ball. In Australia nothing will substitute for runs. However, it's evident that this bunch has some talent in that direction as well, to go along with their self-belief

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (December 21, 2013, 4:03 GMT)

I think finally the South Africans will realise that BOTH teams get to bowl on the same pitch. Their batsmen are equally suspect against pace and bounce. In fact, going by this test so far, the Indian batsmen have played the South African bowlers a lot better. Sure Steyn, Philander and Morkel have pace but they lack discipline at times. The Indians, though far 'less fierce' have bowled well and with discipline. This is an apt answer to the arrogance of the SA media and the ignorance of the Indian media for writing this young talented Indian team off. A win by India will the perfect Christmas present for the whole nation and its billions of fans back home and fit reply to the media.

Posted by Shaktithepower on (December 21, 2013, 3:33 GMT)

I could have been wrong but I think Indians bowled well with old ball. There was some reverse swing for Indian bowlers that was utilised by Zaheer by coming round the wicket and hinding the ball. South Africans on other hand , after the ball got old , just lost the plot..

Posted by humdrum on (December 21, 2013, 3:03 GMT)

Yes,and this has to be benchmarked against the top bowling attack of the day,in their backyard.The bar has been well and truly raised,and with that the eyebrows of international media.Funny how the wicket seems to 'lose' its bite when the Indians are batting. And admitted that the loss of Morkel is a serious blow,surely Steyn and Philander can shoulder the burden in home conditions ? There is never any one single reason for failures,the least of which is lack of planning and selection woes.Implementation comes much down the line.

Posted by NFK1974 on (December 21, 2013, 2:35 GMT)

Thank you Sachin T for getting out of the way (better late than never) !!! I think India is better poised to handle the transition from Sachin-Rahul-Sourav-Laxman era to this new one. West Indies never recovered. Australia is still taking time to come around. This new bunch of Indian cricketers is really fascinating. Hope they stand up and deliver consistently as a group.

Posted by Rufus_Fuddleduck on (December 21, 2013, 2:16 GMT)

The article is well written and comprehensive - let no one take away Murli Vijay's efforts. Given that we are flat track bullies, can someone indicate just how many teams have made this South Africa pack bowl 200-250 overs in a match in South Africa - say over last two years? If Clarke/ Warner/ Cook/ Pietersen had achieved this score, would it would have more press and more praise? The strategy of tiring out the bowling was well-thought and superbly executed, thanks to which the runs flowed in the final session. Celebrations may yet be premature, because today is a new day with fresh bowlers and it is difficult to look beyond these two batsmen in tough situations.

Posted by sray23 on (December 21, 2013, 1:47 GMT)

It was a crime that Akash Chopra got dropped after Aus 2004 and the excuse was for "not scoring big hundreds", when actually he was doing something better by blunting the new ball & letting Viru, Dravid, etc score big hundreds. And it would be a crime if Vijay got the same treatment. Sanjay Manjrekar said briefly yday on cricinfo that he "needs a way to score runs". Why? He is doing perfectly. Because of him Kohli can score all his runs by not facing a brand new ball. Don't listen to these people Vijay & team mgmt. He needs to keep doing exactly what he is doing now!

Posted by BVNaresh on (December 21, 2013, 1:27 GMT)

Well this guy is marching towards his second ton in this test ,playing at No 4 in SA conditions .Has the earlier No 4 scored 2 hundreds in a test?,I doubt it.After watching him play this test,I believe that he can go on to beat many records and play for India for a long time if only he can continue to leave the ball as well as we have seen him in this test!!!

Posted by vakkaraju on (December 21, 2013, 0:34 GMT)

Kohli, Pujara, Vijay and Rahane (in the first innings) have shown great temperament and application. Dhawan and Rohit are yet find their level. They may do well to curb their instincts to attack till they settle down. Viru could pull it off. But then other mortals should be careful.

Posted by rocket123 on (December 21, 2013, 0:13 GMT)

A good performance but I think too early to read too much into new Indian brigade. Nowadays no team even SA is a real No. 1 team. I will just say put this Indian batting line-up against 4 pace bowlers like Mitchell Johnson or even one and the only one Imran Khan the great this batting line will crumble like a house of cards. There is not much in SA. It is not SA that is No1 but it is other teams that are not that good. Indian is just an avg. team looking good becuase right now there is no fearsome pace battery of 4 great fast bowlers in any team. MJ is the only bowler that reminds of great WI pace quartet. If SA draws or wins this Test match this batting performance shall not be repeated in another test for a long time in foreign conditions by India. SA batsmen just made pathetic bowlers like Ishant Sharma good. What else one can say. Look at those bowlers avg and performances thoroughout their careers, it is not very likely they will repeat the performance. Goodluck!

Posted by chitti_cricket on (December 21, 2013, 0:07 GMT)

Not only Pujara and Kohli but Vijay, Rohit and mostly in coming future Dhawan to and extent Dhoni and Rahanae all showed one thing to world, that is leaving the ball outside off stump line is the only best way to play on moving and bouncy tracks. While England playing Aussies on Perth pitch exactly what Ian Chappell was saying. Since he played most of his career on those pitches and how true he is...! His argument is even when ball nips back some times due to the bouncy nature of pitch it is difficult for a bowler to get batsmen out LBW or bowled. Only better options for bowlers on the bouncy pitches is pitch up the ball and move it both ways for catches in slips or put very very accurate bouncer which can hit a batsman head, rib or some part of the body and create kind of intimidation. If batsmen cope to that they can score tons of runs on those pitches. Ian that is why is master and crafty cricketer. Respect him.

Posted by nakihunter on (December 21, 2013, 0:03 GMT)

When the South African media were talking up their attack on bouncy pitches and about the inexperience of the Indian batting line up, I had warned that Indian pacers had performed well on the same pitches in the past.

The performance of the batsmen in this match is way beyond expectation. Vijay, Kholi & Pujara have batted like veterans with 100 test behind them! The sheer discipline of test match batting was amazing.

I think that Smith & the SA think tank will be demoralised by this Indian performance.

Posted by crimsonbull on (December 20, 2013, 23:52 GMT)

A prayer to the cricket Gods be kind to india as you have these last 3 days, for another 6 years.

Posted by   on (December 20, 2013, 22:44 GMT)

Amazing display from the Indians. Pujara and Kohli were too good and before the series started, no one would have imagined, we would be in this position. If this approach is taken on all our overseas matches, we could be in good position of winning series abroad.

One should not forget the contribution from Vijay. I think he was told to hang in there and he did his job really well.

I think for overseas games, this team can be retained for one day games, with probably Jadeja replacing Rahane or Vijay.

Posted by spinkingKK on (December 20, 2013, 22:38 GMT)

Very well played India. I hope they don't follow the same strategy in Australia. In Australia, if you try to kill time at the crease, you are more likely to lose the match. Because, I don't think Aussies tires that easily. Also, even though the batsmen have done exceptionally well, it is the bowlers who gave India the advantage. Dropping Zaheer Khan was one of the best decisions the selectors have done. Now, he knows that he has to perform to stay in the team. Ishant, has, always been a good bowler. When the conditions are good for the fast bowling, he will excel. I knew this all along and persisting with him was one of the very few decisions I have always supported Dhoni about.

Posted by IndianInnerEdge on (December 20, 2013, 22:34 GMT)

The main difference is that our boys showed hunger to win, the intensity and desire , proud and heartening to see that in Ishant's eyes - look at the way he bowled.....fabolous - this is what he is capable off......Our batting was good, fantastic test match batting, uncluky for the saffers that MM is injured, but still long way to go. Once again we display our batting obssessed mentality, our media, our psyche is so batsmen oriented. Agreed that CP and VK played out of their skins, but give some credit to ishant, Zak and shami, these lads ran in hard, did the hard yards on the 2nd day, yet our media generally ignores them. Cmon give them more, they are due this....Cheerio:)

Posted by Alexk400 on (December 20, 2013, 21:44 GMT)

Basically indian batsman well prepared. SA choked as usual.

Posted by CurrentPresident on (December 20, 2013, 21:38 GMT)

An even bigger impact is that they have given belief to the Rohit Sharmas and Shikhar Dhawans and the Rahanes that this SA attack can be tamed (or for that matter any attack in the world in their own backyard).

That self belief will be very important if/when one or both of them gets out early and the others have to click.

Posted by pvr726 on (December 20, 2013, 21:26 GMT)

Spending time at crease, the classic requirement of test cricket - superbly handled by Vijay, Pujara and even Kohli, who looks more aggressive normally. Can't underestimate the batting prowess of a team like SA, 500+ is probably a safe score. With 2 more days to go, sticking to the crease while making runs without a rush should see India through with a big win... great test match cricket all over.

Ishant and the new Zaheer, in contrast to the overrated Steyn and poor Morkel, bowling has come off as well. Next time India shouldn't have any doubts on carrying their most potent weapons (like Ishant) even though they are expensive, to wars like this.

Posted by nareshgb1 on (December 20, 2013, 21:00 GMT)

Good performance - but remember, SA were one bowler short in the first innings (Imran was actually playing for India) and two short in the second (Morkel also out). Thats a big difference - but for sure these uys showed awareness of that. Not bad at all - but this is far from the most difficult test they will face.

Posted by BnH1985Fan on (December 20, 2013, 20:57 GMT)

Hope and despair for Gambhir and Sehwag -- hope seeing how Dhawan has played, despair after seeing how the middle order has made up. Good job!

Posted by fanofcricket123 on (December 20, 2013, 20:56 GMT)

I believe the greatest contribution of Dravid and Sachin bas been their ability to inspire a whole new generation of skilled Indian batsmen. The benchmark has been set and it is great to see young players shouldering that responsibility especially in conditions alien to them and surpassing the expectations of avid Indian cricket fans.

It is true that there were hardly any expectations from them overseas. Their challenge will be to continue to excel consistently over a prolonged period of time when expectations are placed on their shoulders. Sachin and Dravid were masters at that for about 10-15 years. But, you have to acknowledge that these guys have gone one better than their illustrious predecessors overseas.

A tours and IPL, have made them familiar with the foreign conditions and foes alike which weren't luxuries provided to Sachin and Dravid had when they were young. It is a great day for Indian cricket!!

Posted by nainil0683 on (December 20, 2013, 20:53 GMT)

The next pair of Tendulkar-Dravid, Jayawerdena-Sangakkarra, Inzama-Yousuf

Posted by silentstand on (December 20, 2013, 20:52 GMT)

Gotta give them credit they are good

Posted by kriskingle on (December 20, 2013, 20:52 GMT)

@sreehk: Rohit Sharma is in the wings to fill that gap...

Posted by YogifromNY on (December 20, 2013, 19:28 GMT)

Even though these are early days playing abroad for both these batsmen (Pujara more than Kohli, of course), still the absolute mastery and self-restraint they showed while batting today bodes well for their - and India's - future. Beautifull built innings from both batsmen of differing characters. Pujara restrained early on before he opened up in the last 70 minutes of play. Kohli playing aggressively early on, then reining in his stroke play when he saw Pujara go from 1st to 6th gear. Mature, classy, delectable. These two deserve the accolades.

Begs one question - why, oh why, do the selectors not prefer Pujara in ODIs too instead of the distinctly inferior Raina or Yuvraj?

Posted by sreehk on (December 20, 2013, 19:23 GMT)

Too early days to say, but just everyone knows that two legends are in the making. We are just waiting for 5 more years to say that. I don't miss Dravid and Tendulkar now. But I will still miss Laxman's grace, assurance, elegance, and humble walk.

Posted by   on (December 20, 2013, 19:10 GMT)

I am so happy that Pujara played in SA as he plays in India - thrilled with his planning and execution. Kohli showed again what a strong character he is. M Vijay was also great - played the role of the perfect opener.

Dravid rated Rahane very highly - wish he too does well in SA.

Zak and Co. were also disciplined and consistent and FIT - all 10 wickets to Indian pacers is fabulous. But look out for Ashwin in 2nd innings - he is a smart fighter.

Posted by   on (December 20, 2013, 19:01 GMT)

It was delightfully heartening to watch Pujara and Kohli bat today. They scored easily of Tahir and Duminy. But there were some classy drives through offside that set the tone for their session. Their temperament was just amazing.

Posted by vgov on (December 20, 2013, 18:51 GMT)

The way these 2 have left the ball was exceptional . they had the patience , discipline and temparament to wait for the bad balls to put away which was found missing in our senior veterans who was fishing around the offstem when they toured to england and australia resulting in whitewash , even we considered them to be flat track bullies but we should give credit it to them as these 2 exhibits excellent footwork while defending or playing shots especially pujara who i think is an ideal replacement for Dravid. Kohli match to that of Sachin in his stoke play .

Posted by   on (December 20, 2013, 18:39 GMT)

Good to see these young indian batsmen backing themselves on foreign pitches

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