On September 3, 2012, India won the Test series against New Zealand 2-0. For the first time in sixteen years, India were without the service of either VVS Laxman of Rahul Dravid. Cheteshwar Pujara considered heir apparent of Dravid filled in the big shoes of the great man batting at No 3 while Kohli’s pace of the innings and the control with which he constructed his knocks reminded people of Laxman. Sarang Bhalerao revisits the moment where Indian cricket took a seamless transition.
Elegance and discipline are virtues. Personification of both forms of art is a connoisseur’s delight. The epithets just flew reflexively when one saw VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid bat. The former defined the improbable with his supple wrists. The ball around off-stump would end up around the square-leg area. The acts of resurrections presented opportunity for him. The innings of 281 is an unprecedented benchmark set by Laxman. On that hot afternoon of March in 2001, Kolkata witnessed batting of the highest order. If Laxman was a river flowing serenely then his partner Dravid was offering dodgy resistance. The duo added 376 for the fifth wicket against Australia and India won the Test match against Australia after following on.
For the first time in sixteen years, India went into the Test series without Laxman or Dravid. Laxman announced his retirement before the start of the series. There were many speculations regarding this sudden decision. It was like an end of an era but there was a sense of excitement too. There was speculation regarding the possible men who could fill into the shoes of the giants of Indian cricket. A wave of feature write-ups were written in the newspapers, while TV channels indulged in endless discussions. While Cheteshwar Pujara was expected to fill in Dravid’s shoes, people expected Virat Kohli to take Laxman’s responsibility. There was still a vacant spot in the middle-order since Dravid, Laxman and Kohli all were part of team that lost 4-0 to Australia. The vacant middle-order spot went to India’s one-day specialist Suresh Raina who was selected ahead of the talented Ajinkya Rahane and Subramaniam Badrinath.
Pujara stamped his authority over New Zealand in the first Test match at Hyderabad to kick-start the smooth transition of Indian cricket. When Kohli joined Pujara the duo batted with assurance, not a single moment of torment. Generation Next it seemed had the right discipline to fill in the shoes of the Indian stalwarts. Pujara, in particular, played copybook cricket. The watertight technique, the ability to bat for longer periods, the still head and eliminating the lofted shots in his innings — these rules defined his batting. Going for a lofted shot anytime in his innings was a delinquency. It was a profanity against his religion called “batsmanship”. He entered the zone — a phase where he saw the ball in HD. It wasn’t long before Pujara was bestowed with nickmanes like ‘The Wall – Version 2.0’.
Pujara merely added a brick to the prevailing legacy of Dravid. His USP was practicing the art of simplicity. No exaggerated movements before the ball is bowled and never ever playing an airy-fairy shot. The occasion didn’t intimidate Pujara, he was ready for the challenge. His innings of 159 against New Zealand contained cuts, pulls, drives and there was hardly any blemish in any of the shots. Even when he got to his maiden international hundred there were no theatrics. The body language suggested there were many more of these to come.
At 159, Pujara attempted an ambitious shot. He tried to go for a big hit against Jeetan Patel and miscued the shot. He was dismissed in an uncharacteristic manner. He was distraught; he put his head down and looked inconsolable. But the man had announced his arrival in a grand fashion and showed that he has the immense run-hunger.
Kohli, on the other hand, was labelled as a one-day specialist, but was hell-bent on proving his critics wrong. He was one of the positives that emerged from the torrid Australian tour, scoring the only hundred by an Indian in the series. Against New Zealand in the second Test, India were reeling at 67 for three when Kohli came out to bat; the Black Caps had scored 365. So it was imperative that India get a decent first innings score on a wicket that was deteriorating. Soon, India lost Sachin Tendulkar and the score was 80 for four.
That’s when Kohli took over and counterattacked with Suresh Raina. Kohli’s drives were sublime; he even employed his brute force to put off-spinner Patel under pressure. He stitched useful alliances with Raina and captain MS Dhoni to put India in a good position. When Kohli flicked Trent Boult for his 14th boundary in the innings, he brought about his second century. There was a jump in ecstasy; the arms were raised in joy and the India crest was kissed. It was not VVS-like but it was mighty effective.
In the second innings the duo of Pujara and Kohli played an important hand when India were set out to score 261 in the fourth innings. The former scored 48 and the dynamic Kohli hit 51 runs and took India to a win. The innings was not quite flashing. It was a wonderful edifice constructed by Kohli who played out tough phase where the bowlers were on top. After getting his eye in Kohli went berserk and put the bowling team in a quandary. India finished the game in style as Dhoni went hammer and tongs. He finished the game in his customary manner — with a six.
The batting maturity of Pujara and Kohli augured well for the future of India. Today, the duo is the vital cog of India batting line up.
Another youngster who stood out was Ravichandran Ashwin who took 18 wickets in two Test matches including 12 for 85 in the first Test at Hyderabad. The two-Test series against New Zealand was a litmus test for the youngsters about their temperament. They passed with flying colours, alright. It all started here.
Brief scores of 1st Test at Hyderabad:
India 438 (Cheteshwar Pujara 159; Jeetan Patel 4 for 100) beat New Zealand 159 (James Franklin 43*; Ravichandran Ashwin 6 for 31) and 164 (Kane Williamson 52; Ravichandran Ashwin 6 for 54) by an innings and 115 runs.
Man of the match: Ravichandran Ashwin
Brief scores of 2nd Test at Bangalore:
New Zealand 365 (Ross Taylor 113; Pragyan Ojha 5 for 99) and 248 (James Franklin 41; Ravichandran Ashwin 5 for 69) lost to India 353 (Virat Kohli 103; Tim Southee 7 for 64) and 262 for 5 (Virat Kohli 51*, MS Dhoni 48*; Jeetan Patel 3 for 68) by 5 wickets.
Man of the Match: Virat Kohli
(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)