MUMBAI: Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli’s exploits with the bat in the two-test series sweep of New Zealand will encourage India to believe they have pinpointed the right men to help carry the team through a tricky transitional period.
The series was the first for India since the retirements of batting stalwarts Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, and represented the earliest test of a situation that had been lurking on the horizon for quite some time.
The 24-year-old Pujara replaced Dravid at the number three spot in the Indian batting line-up and displayed a temperament as cool as his predecessor when he hit 159 in the opening match in Hyderabad, his first test since January 2011.
On Monday in Bangalore, the right-hander showed fine technique and a steely nerve during his innings of 48 which helped set up India’s successful run chase of 261 in the second test.
The 23-year-old Kohli, man of the match in Bangalore, walked in to bat in the second innings with India under a bit of pressure and the match evenly poised.
It was almost an identical situation to the first innings when Kohli had to rescue the hosts from a spot of bother with his second test hundred.
The first innings centurion once again shut New Zealand out with a mature, unbeaten knock of 51 which convinced Dravid that Kohli was now India’s leading batsman.
“Virat has been fantastic. On current form, he is the best batsman in the Indian team. He has really grabbed the opportunities provided,” Dravid said while speaking as a guest commentator for the broadcasters.
India will host higher-ranked England and Australia for eight tests later this season and the series against New Zealand was seen as a prelude to the tougher tasks ahead.
While those matches will be the acid test for Kohli and Pujara, the early signs bode well for the two batsmen.
“Virat played really well in this test match because we needed someone to soak up the pressure,” India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni told reporters after the match.
“He was the guy who did that in both the innings.
“Pujara was good in this innings as well as in the last test also. So it is a continuous learning process and they are shaping up well.
“It is a big positive for us.”
India’s biggest concern remains over the number six position in the batting order.
While limited-overs regular Suresh Raina enjoys Dhoni’s confidence, he failed to cement his place with two failures in the three innings he batted against New Zealand.
The left-hander scored a battling 55 in the first innings in Bangalore but his wild swat to get bowled for a duck against off-spinner Jeetan Patel in the second will not go down well with his critics.
“These are the men we have to fight the war with because you have put in a lot of time and effort on these players,” Dhoni said, hinting he was willing to stick with Raina little longer.
“It’s not that in just one or two games you see players who will always perform. I think these are the individuals who will be featuring in the test matches.
“They have to take up a little more responsibility as the season progresses and hopefully they will come right.”
Swashbuckling opener Virender Sehwag has in recent times not ruled out the idea of batting in the middle order, another option for India to plug the hole at the number six spot.
Ajinkya Rahane, who has tons of runs in domestic cricket, could fill in for Sehwag at the top of the order with left-hander Gautam Gambhir.
Gambhir, who has not scored a fifty in his last seven innings in tests, looked in fine touch in the second innings in Bangalore before he poked at an away-going deliver, a shot which has been his bane in the recent past. (Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by John O’Brien)