Sans Virat Kohli, Indian cricket team’s top order worst-ever show in South Africa

Never since the 1992 tour, has the top-six of India averaged so less in South Africa. On their last tour of South Africa in 2013-14, the top-six averaged 44.78 with two centuries and five fifties. Only Virat Kohli has been an exception.

cricket Updated: Jan 19, 2018 13:21 IST
Somshuvra Laha
Somshuvra Laha
Hindustan Times, Johannesburg
India vs South Africa,Indian cricket team,South African cricket team
Rohit Sharma has failed to perform for India in the first two Tests against South Africa in Cape Town and Centurion. India are trailing 2-0 in the three-Test series.(AFP)

When you find there’s not a single fifty in the series apart from Virat Kohli’s 153 at Centurion, you might get the feeling the India captain’s batting is on another plane. The top six India batsmen have averaged 20.45 --- their third-worst show in any series of two or more Tests. If Kohli’s 153 is deducted, the average of the 23 innings played by the top six drops to 14.08.

Never since the 1992 tour (24.42) has the top six of India averaged so less in South Africa. On their last tour of South Africa, in 2013-14, the top six averaged 44.78 with two centuries and five fifties. With the Wanderers pitch already giving off ominous signs from its uniform lush green surface, India’s averages may take a further beating in the series.

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A big reason behind the lack of runs is the unstable sense of positions among the batsmen. Only Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli have been a constant in their positions throughout all four innings. Hardik Pandya too batted at No 7 in all four innings but it should be the specialists who should have more clarity about their roles.

Other than Virat, none in the Indian top six managed a fifty in the two Tests. If Virat’s 153 is taken out, the average of the 23 remaining innings falls to 14.08

Among the batsmen, Vijay, Pujara and even Wriddhiman Saha play Tests exclusively. But neither the BCCI nor the team management tried to send them to South Africa right after an uninspiring Test series against Sri Lanka. With efforts on ways to make the Test specialists’ life comfortable with a comparable salary and even stints in county, they really have no excuse.

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With just one overseas century to his name ever since his debut in 2010, Pujara is in danger of being bracketed as a flat-track bully like Shikhar Dhawan. Getting run out twice is criminal in Tests and both came when India were in need of a steady partnership. Ever since his patient first innings 26 in Cape Town, Pujara hasn’t been himself. There is a school of thought that he is getting influenced by Kohli’s talk of intent and trying to change his approach towards batting.

If that’s the case, either Kohli or Ravi Shastri should sit with him immediately and make the mandate clear to him. Pujara was dropped in similar conditions on the Caribbean tour in 2016 but a long home season after that may have masked his problem again.

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After a forgettable first Test, Vijay stood his ground in the first innings in Centurion to make 46 but after having seen off the new ball so well, an opener is expected to carry on and score big. But Vijay went for a suicidal cut off Keshav Maharaj with India still not quite out of the jail at 107/2.

Rohit has been lucky to play both Tests but in all fairness, he did try to salvage India’s first-innings with Pujara even though it didn’t come natural to him. A stroke player by nature, Rohit may have found Newlands too extreme a pitch but the Centurion strip could easily have been any of the Indian wickets where he scores heavily. By not even exploiting that, Rohit has given a weak account of not only his technique but also his mindset.

First Published: Jan 18, 2018 21:30 IST