It was Cheteshwar Pujara’s best chance to walk into the record books. But 16 short of equalling Sachin Tendulkar’s 169, the best by an India batsman in South Africa, he edged a wild cut to wicketkeeper AB de Villiers.
Recklessness was due from a batsman who’d shown remarkable levels of resilience since the length he batted had taxed even the world’s best pace attack. Tiredness was expected. But India needed quick runs to set South Africa a big target and give themselves as much time as possible to get the hosts out and win the first Test.
Virat Kohli too had the chance to go into the record books as the first Indian to hit centuries in both Test innings in South Africa. He too went for an ill-advised cut to be left disconsolate after the shot.
These moments, coming one after the other, were after the two had spent hours at the crease wearing down the Proteas attack that eventually got frustrated and began to look wayward. Considering that India did take their time to set the final target, the two could have stayed patient to set the records. But the dismissals added that extra touch of heroism to their efforts.
Former South Africa and Australia opener Kepler Wessels, who had been non-committal when asked to compare them with Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, was this time effusive in praise. “It is too early to say but they have done exceptionally well.” If you derive pleasure from simple statistics, Pujara surpassed Dravid’s best at the Wanderers (148) and Virat has scored about the same runs in his first Test in South Africa as Tendulkar had in his first series here (202 in four Tests).
Over the last few days, both Duncan Fletcher and MS Dhoni have been working on the batsmen’s technique with Dhoni giving throwdowns and Fletcher standing behind the nets to oversee the batting. The emphasis, even in the nets, has been on making the batsmen play within their limitations considering the talk of vulnerability against short-pitched deliveries that had been doing the rounds.
And to everyone’s surprise, Kohli and Pujara were on the ball when it came to playing the short deliveries. Perhaps South Africa read the pitch wrong, or as Ishant said it was their strategy to bowl a line different to the ones India bowled and pepper them with short balls, even if misdirected ones. But it showed the Indian duo wasn’t scared of going after them. What stood out was Kohli’s calculated aggression. While Pujara has remained untouched by the shorter format, Kohli’s plays in every format.