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16 January, 2018

5 aspects Kohli, Shastri will need to save face from

Fourth day: At 35/3, with a cursing captain Virat back in the pavilion, India's remaining top order have more than job satisfaction to achieve

By Francis Adams

"We know how to win Test matches now and that's a very good habit and knowledge to have," said Virat Kohli, during a press conference on December 30, 2017.

Virat Kohli resurrected his batting with a hard-fought 153, but he will
also be responsible for his team's failures. Pic courtesy:
It's January, 17, 2018 and the final day of the second Test versus South Africa. India, already 0-1 down in the three-Test match series, are staring at defeat at 35 for 3, with their lone ranger in the top order batting, the captain courageous himself, gone.

Here are five aspects that Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma, part of India's famed top order will need to do and lead India to a respectable draw.

If they squeeze out a win, it'll be seen as a miracle or an act of redemption and bravery. It'll go down in the history of cricket as a textbook lesson for future generations of Indian cricket.

1. Staying true to big talks

"[So], I feel the kind of bowling attack we have now and the kind of balance we have in the side, we definitely believe that we can win here.  There's no two ways about it. If we wouldn't have that mindset, there'd be no point in getting ourselves on that flight.

We have come here wanting to express ourselves, believing in our abilities, knowing that we have the right balance to win Test matches in any conditions we play at," said Virat Kohli ahead of the First Test in his first press conference after landing in South Africa.

Pujara and Rohit Sharma are only the two accomplished batsmen left who can prove Kohli's assertion that India has the right balance to win Test matches in any conditions they play on.

There's evidence that the SuperSport Park pitch at Centurion is treacherous, devilish and yet the sub continental type.

These two top order batsmen will have to play as the fulcrum and inspire, guide Parthiv Patel, Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin, and the tailenders Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah to turn this match around in their favour.

2. What's the thinking in the dressing room?

India and cricket fans cannot expect Ravi Shastri to step in an save the team
on the field. He was a respected allrounder when he played.
Pic courtesy:
Sunil Gavaskar, doing live TV commentary from the venue, said "I don't know what's the thinking in this [Indian] dressing room." He said this exasperatedly in response to a query from Harsha Bhogle from the Sonyliv studio.

Gavaskar was obviously hinting at the exclusion of Ajinkya Rahane (from both first and second Tests) and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar from the second Test.

Reckoned as an all-time great opening batsmen in cricket history, Gavaskar, popularly known as Sunny wields that authority to offer opinions. "With Kohli gone, it looks difficult for India to win here," he said.

Having done live TV commentary for decades alongside Ravi Shastri, India's chief coach, Gavaskar may not feel appropriate to take names. But he is dejected and shocked at the way both, Shastri and Kohli have approached their South Africa tour.

The remaining seven India wickets have this herculean task now to justify every decision taken in the dressing room has been correct.

3. Top order a failure

Apart from Kohli, who salvaged his pride with face and innings saving 153 in the first innings, all other top order batsmen including Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan (rested for second Test), Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma have failed miserably to put into action what the team management had proposed to do.

"This once again, is an opportunity for us to play good cricket. We are not thinking whether we are playing in South Africa or any other country. For us, it's about winning sessions, being in the present, executing our skills well, not looking at history as to what's happened at a particular point in time. I think the most important think is to not get surprised by the pace and bounce. You believe in your abilities and take it [conditions and situations] head on," are Kohli's bold statements made to the press and the cricket fans worldwide.

M Vijay and KL Rahul will not get an opportunity to prove true Kohli's words in this second Test. They got two good attempts and came a cropper.

You, dear cricket fan, can only pray that Pujara and Rohit put on imaginable or invisible warrior's armour and stay at the wicket the entire day five to bail India out with a draw.

4. Rohit Sharma's acid test

Just the way former cricketers and experts have been analysing the omission of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar from the second Test, they have been equally vocal about Kohli and Shastri preferring Rohit Sharma over Rahane.

“It’s funny how things change in a matter of weeks, or just about five days. Before the first Test no one thought that he [Rahane] should be in the 11 and now suddenly people are looking at the other option. For us as a team it’s all about finding the right balance. If players fit in the kind of balance we want to go in with as a side then they will fit in," Kohli had said.

The captain's response was seen as a retort and in strong defence of his authority, on "I know what's best" for Indian cricket at this moment.

These replies, all of which are on record, will now haunt both Kohli and Rohit.

It is in this innings, on this fifth day of this second Test, when Rohit was shielded from facing fire with India at 35 for 3, that the Mumbai Indians skipper has the opportunity to keep his own, Kohli's and India's pride intact.

On the fourth day, Parthiv Patel was sent to bat ahead of Rohit with an acceptable reason that his left-hand bat will combine well with Pujara's right-hand in stifling the pitch and the South African attack.
No one can shield Rohit except himself on this fifth day, January, 17, 2018.

5. Lack of any practice games

Preferring net sessions to practice games will be talked about should
India lose this second Test and with it the series. Pic courtesy:
"We'd rather have practice sessions that are in our control. The way we want to run them," said Kohli when asked about India's refusal to have any practice games to get their batsmen ready to play in South African conditions.

"If you look at the wicket we are playing right now, it is not even 15% of what we are going to play
on. We understand that. There is no point in wasting two days, you know, guys going in and scoring quick 50s. We'd rather do sessions like today, test ourselves.

Here we have the freedom to water the wicket, bowl at the wicket harder and get conditions we want."

A complete disregard to practice games as is evident from the captain's piercing comments will be talked about should India lose this second Test and with it the series.

Sanjay Manjrekar, disliked by few fans on the social media for what they accuse say "he makes personal comments  on players" was spot on when he summed up that because India did not play any practice matches going into the series, all the mistakes in batting they could have ironed out in those practice matches came out in the first Test. And as we fans have seen, even in the second Test.