Pujara and Kohli have allayed fears of any middle-order crisis for India
The big question going into the New Zealand Test series was whether India’s middle-order batting, having lost the services of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, can deliver. Although the Kiwis were not expected to challenge the hosts on their home turf, India still had a lot of work to do to demonstrate that they were on the road to recover after the battering in Australia that led to the two retirements in the first place.
With the series sealed 2-0, with both Tests won with a day to spare, are we already witnessing the beginning of a new era? Cheteshwar Pujara led the way in the first Test in Hyderabad, producing a classy maiden century. Virat Kohli, who played the support role to perfection there, was the leader in Bangalore where the experienced top order batsmen again failed to take charge.
Pujara, troubled by injury so early in his career, is looking in fine touch after undergoing surgeries in both knees while Delhi boy Kohli is on an amazing run with the bat this year. While the Saurashtra batsman has been spoken of as a perfect fit for Tests, Pujara still showed he was ready for a scrap by playing attacking shots when the New Zealand seamers pitched it short. He has all the shots in the book, be it punching through cover or hitting it on the rise past mid-on. In short a solid replacement for Dravid.
Kohli, coming in at No. 5, has shown amazing maturity. If his aggressive celebrations made headlines, he led the tricky chase in Bangalore by showing plenty of patience with his shot selection, opening out only when victory was in sight. So, the question is, with the bigger challenges of England and Australia to come in the next few months, can we safely say that our worries about middle order fraility were unfounded. And with Rohit Sharma, S Badrinath and top-order batsman Ajinkya Rahane in the wings, can we say that these players can step in for any of the seasoned campaigners in the side?
The other interesting issue that has come up is skipper MS Dhoni demanding turning tracks to get the home advantage. In the early 90s, India prepared designer pitches, crumbling surfaces where matches got over well within the distance as their spinners went to work. However, if Anil Kumble is today regarded as an all-time great, it is because he continued to be a grand success despite pitches becoming more balanced. The International Cricket Council (ICC) rules to make sure that the pitches were of a certain standard has played a role, but better pitches have also made for more attractive cricket.
Asking for turning pitches is no crime, as Indian batsmen face seaming wickets abroad. But are turning pitches in our country good enough to last for five days? Do crumbling pitches make for attractive cricket? Will the cricket fan vote for victory by any which way or insist on exciting cricket, like the one we saw in Bangalore against New Zealand?
By N Ananthanarayanan