India vs South Africa: India's batting pillars
Swing, pace, lateral movement and bounce. These are the words that come to mind when one pictures Test cricket in South Africa. And who should be scared? India's opening batsmen are very likely to find themselves back in the pavilion within 6 overs of play, which makes the men that walk out next extremely significant.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli are likely to find themselves on the batting crease at a very early stage in their innings after Murali Vijay or Shikhar Dhawan are dismissed. From the other end, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn will be attacking wildly in tandem. Chaos will fill the air.
India's number 3 and 4 need to ensure that India doesn't collapse like nine pins. They need to shield the rest of the batting lineup from a lethal pace attack. At the same time, they need to make Ravi Shastri say, "That ball traveled like a tracer bullet!"
This means that Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli hold the key to India's success in South Africa, and India's chances to win their first-ever series in South Africa heavily relies on them.
Pujara first visited South Africa in 2010/11, only months after his Test debut. He made a very ordinary beginning compared to his current standards, top scoring with 19 in 3 innings. However, it was his visit in 2013/14 that Pujara stamped his dominance on South Africa. In the first Test of the two-match series, Pujara contributed a total of 153 to India’s total of 421, and this knock proved pivotal to produce a draw where South Africa were 8 runs from victory. He followed this up with a well-made 70 that unfortunately went towards a losing cause.
Most importantly, Pujara has tremendous recent form behind him, scoring a mammoth 143 against Sri Lanka. He recently held the number 2 position on the Test rankings for a brief period too.
Records apart, it is Pujara’s ability to concentrate for long periods of time, and his incredible batting stamina, that makes him India’s first batting pillar. His position at number 3 is crucial and South Africa is a place where the swinging ball is likely to devour at least one of the openers in the opening spell of bowling. Most importantly, Pujara is a wall. He will deflate the opposition without deflating himself.
Virat Kohli is a man with 51 international hundreds and counting. His recent form has been sizzling, courtesy that rapid double hundred against Sri Lanka at home. He is a passionate captain, and has crossed every frontier at home.
His ability to savour pressure situations makes him an incredible team player and aided by his almost god-like fitness levels, Virat Kohli can run the opposition out of the game. He has already proved himself in South Africa, scoring 119 in the first innings of the first Test of the 2010/11 tour. This was superbly followed up by a crucial 96 with Pujara that helped India to salvage a draw with defeat around the corner.
Kohli recently said that he has discovered one-day style batting as a way of dominating in Tests, and those rapid hundreds can shake up even the most formidable opposition. It is his consistent perfection and zeal that makes him India’s second batting pillar.
We all know that a building with two pillars cannot stand with just one. It will crumble to dust. The chances of India's maiden series win against the Proteas away from home rests in the hands of these men: Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara.