GAME PLAN: Vizag Test: Over to Kohli, once again

Jaideep Ghosh

Mohali: Indian captain Virat Kohli celebrates with team mates after beating South Africa in the first Test match in Mohali on Saturday, November 7, 2015. Photo - PTI

Photo – PTI

There are few better sights in international cricket than seeing Virat Kohli in full flow. A man with conviction, both as a captain and a batsman, he puts everything into it.

That cover drive is a dream.

What is disturbing however is the fact that he was out so early playing that cover drive.
This is a series for debuts. Not as much for players as for grounds, with Rajkot hosting the first Test of the series and now Vizag getting the distinction of becoming the 24th Test centre in India.

Good thing, I suppose, to take Test cricket to all corners. After all, that will only add to the numbers in the stands. In theory anyway.

But the initial enthusiasm was dented straightaway with India losing both openers for next to nothing on the board.

Kohli won the toss and decide to bat, with Lokesh Rahul back in the side in place of Gautam Gambhir. The Karnataka opener went in to bat with Murali Vijay and lasted just five balls.
Vijay too was in the firing line and was gone soon enough, leaving Kohli to once again cement the innings.

The Indian team also sees Jayant Yadav, the Haryana off-spinner, making his debut as Amit Mishra was left out.

England’s change was more significant, for sure. James Anderson, one of the best for England and around the world, is back and showed immediate impact.
Anderson has been in the wilderness for a while, nursing injuries, so he was keen as mustard to get going, taking the field as a substitute at Rajkot and now back in the business, instead of Chris Woakes.

And immediately, he was in the fray, removing Vijay.

Rajkot had ended as a draw, but not before the visitors had really pushed the Indian batting into a corner. The vital aspect to that was that Kohli lost a toss after a long time.
But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the English batted with the professionalism that has become landmark for them in recent days.

Once they had the runs on the board, it was always going to be a test for India’s resolve. And the hosts almost succumbed.

So if there were any brownie points to be won from Rajkot, they largely went to the Englishmen.
What also emerged is how dependent the Indian batting has become on Kohli. Vijay and Cheteshawar Pujara did chip in, but when the chips were threatening to collapse in the second innings, it was left to the skipper’s grit and skill to keep the marauding bowlers at bay.

Crucially, the Indians didn’t handle the spin of Adil Rashid with any measure of confidence. Granted it is a difficult job to play any decent spinner on a turning track, those tracks have been created with the assumption that the Indian batsmen would cope.

But then, Vizag should be different, if the Indian batting can set things up. But as was evident from the first hour, Kohli can’t take it easy.

The top slot has been quite an issue. We had Shikhar Dhawan struggling there, while Rahul fell on the wayside, injured. Vijay is not consistent, while Gambhir is quite frankly at the end of his tenure.
So any half-decent bowling attack will be optimistic that they can make early headway. If that happens with few runs on the board, things can happen.

But then, they have to cross Kohli and hopefully Pujara. As it became evident in Vizag on Thursday, neither is ready to give ground.

Pujara may not be your typical modern-day cricketer – he is reticent instead of in-your-face, quiet instead of voluble – but make no mistake, there is a lot of iron in the core.
Kohli, on the other hand, is archetypal Kohli. No ground given, none expected.

So that is now the core of the Indian batting – these two batsmen. All the battle plans in the rival camp are largely focussed at how to get past Kohli and now Pujara.

Which makes it imperative that the rest of the batsmen – Rahul, Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane down the order – to stand up and make themselves difficult. Can’t leave it all to just two players.

Thunder Down Under: While the Rajkot Test was on here, Australia and South Africa were engaged in the second Test of the series Down Under, at Hobart.

What a difference it was between the two places. While Rajkot was threatening to meander into oblivion, till the second session of Day Five, Hobart was sheer murder. It is not often that a side scores just 326 runs and wins by an innings and some. Well, South Africa did just that.

Australia possibly had their worst nightmare as a batting unit, even worse than the first Test loss at Perth.

They scored a total of 246 runs for the loss of 20 wickets in two innings, never once being able to get past Kyle Abbott, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada, who claimed nine, five and five wickets respectively.

Australia will be looking at a completely revamped side when they head for Adelaide. They have precious little to play for barring pride.

But pride is often enough.