Post-Sachin era begins with tough SA test

Dhoni’s men will look to bounce back from ODI setback

By (Agencies)

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Published: Thu 19 Dec 2013, 12:02 AM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 8:01 AM

MS Dhoni and his men can expect a lot of bouncers from the South African bowlers. — AP file

The thrashing in ODIs behind them, India will be aiming to start the post-Sachin Tendulkar era in Test cricket on a positive note but the task looks daunting as they would be up against the world’s number one side South Africa in the two-match series starting on Wednesday.

At the Wanderers stadium, after losing the three-ODI series 2-0, the visitors will be looking to make their first mark on the tour, in what will be a new era in the annals of Indian cricket. For this is the first Test match for Team India following the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar. The Master Blaster bid farewell after playing his 200th Test versus West Indies in Mumbai, in what was an emotional roller-coaster for the entire nation’s cricket fans.

Since then, six ODIs have been played against the Windies and here in South Africa. The contrasting results in these two series had taken some focus off the issues emanating from Tendulkar’s retirement. Now, they need to be addressed.

The first question to be asked is who will bat at number four? The true realisation of Tendulkar’s departure will dawn when a new face comes in to bat at the fall of the second wicket during India’s first innings in this Test. It probably will be Virat Kohli, attempting to fill in the big boots, an unenviable task surely.

It fits the context of this Test series. This is India’s first overseas Test in nearly two years, since their tour to Australia in 2011-12. In 12 Tests at home thereafter, India won nine, lost two and drew one, winning series against New Zealand, Australia and West Indies.

They lost a series to England in between. Most importantly, this long home season ensured the transition with Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman departing the scene.

Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Harbhajan Singh were side-lined owing to poor performances, giving a completely new look to the Indian team. In this interim, Kohli has been the premier batsman for this young side for almost two seasons now. And ever since he has landed here, the Proteas have given him their undivided attention.

Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel peppered him with pace and bounce in the ODI series, wherein he scored 31 runs and a duck in the first two ODIs. That India lost when he failed is, perhaps, a significant reminder of their reliance on Kohli, who has 11 hundreds in successful ODI run-chases.

It isn’t his success rate in limited-overs cricket that makes him a first-choice pick for number four in Tests. Instead, it is his aggressive mentality and gusty demeanour that was amply displayed when faced with blinding pace and fearsome bounce in the first ODI at the Wanderers.

Riled by a Morkel delivery that hit him in the ribs, Kohli didn’t back away, and took on Steyn and company, or at least he tried to. In the two Tests though, he will need to mix this belligerent intent with caution. It is true for all other batsmen as well. It was their propensity to look for shots at the very beginning of their innings that led to their downfall in the ODIs.

And South Africa’s pace attack will once again look to exploit this bit with the red Kookaburra ball expected to do more than the white one. Not to mention, it is the same Wanderers’ deck that caused much pain to this young Indian batting line-up in their opening match on tour. “There is pace and bounce in this wicket, as is the case at this ground always,” said Pethuel Buthelezi, a groundsman here, who has worked on the Wanderers’ pitch for a long time.

“But this is also a win-toss-bat-first wicket. If the batsmen get set they will like the bounce and 400 runs should be a good first innings’ score,” he said.

It should be music to the Indian batsmen who are looking for that one innings to restore lost confidence. They have been denied competitive cricket since the Centurion ODI.

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