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HindustanTimes Wed,26 Nov 2014

Cricket

India tour of England: Batting core fails to hold it together
Sanjjeev K Samyal, Hindustan Times
Southampton, August 02, 2014
First Published: 01:20 IST(2/8/2014)
Last Updated: 01:24 IST(2/8/2014)

Compared to the last time India and England faced off, this series, at best, was expected to be a contest between two average sides.

The onus to provide high-quality entertainment was left to the likes of Alastair Cook and Ian Bell, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara.

After a slow start, Cook and Bell came alive at Southampton, proving why they are rated so highly in international cricket.

Virat and Pujara were expected to match the English duo, however, to the disappointment of their fans, the two are yet to play an innings of substance in this series.

Making a mark in England is considered important because it provides the unique challenge of being disciplined and skilful against the moving ball. Having done well in South Africa and New Zealand, Virat and Pujara came here with growing reputations.

Both have struggled to pace their innings. Virat has been eager to get on with the game and Pujara has not been able to shift gears when set. After six innings each, Virat averages 16.83 and Pujara 31.66.

Seen as heirs to Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid - Pujara bats at Dravid's No 3 and Virat at Tendulkar's No 4,

Virat and Pujara have to figure out ways of getting runs in these conditions.

More importantly, their lack of runs has left the India middle order vulnerable. Ajinkya Rahane is the only one to show consistency.

In the first two Tests, Bhuvneshwar Kumar covered up for the top order. Batting at No 9, he hit three half-centuries in four innings and the pinch was not felt.

However, it became glaring at Southampton. When England piled up a mammoth first innings total, the team was naturally expecting the big guns to lead the charge. Virat got starts in both the innings but couldn't build on them. He has been targeted by James Anderson by tempting him with balls around the off-stump. It worked again in the first innings.

By taking a long time to settle down, Pujara has allowed the bowlers to press on. After doing the early hard work, this time he was out to a rising ball from Stuart Broad.

Virat's contribution in the two innings was 39 and 28, while Pujara made 24 and two.

The frustrating part is both have looked in good touch. As it happens in these situations, doubt creeps in. When they fell to defensive shots off part-time spinner Moeen Ali in the second essay, it was more about failing confidence, than their technique.

Getting out after being set has become a pattern of their play. Except for the second innings here, Pujara has spent a lot of time at the crease.

It's something which their captain will be concerned about. "It will become a concern once it becomes repetitive. Let's hope that it doesn't become a habit. But the good thing is that the batsmen are getting good starts, and hopefully they will convert those starts into big innings. Getting a start is more difficult than converting starts. Hopefully, they will come back strong," Dhoni said after the loss.

The pressure is now on the batting stars. One of the disadvantages of a cramped tour is that there is no time to work your way into form. India play five Tests in a matter of 42 days. Virat and Pujara would have loved a side match in between to fine-tune their game.


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