By Harsha Bhogle
It was a clinical performance by India to beat New Zealand by an innings and 115 runs in the first Test at Hyderabad. It was also India’s first Test match post the retirement of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, so it was a test for the younger batsmen who have come in. And they did remarkably well. This is actually a good time for people to come in and gain their confidence of playing at this level, but there are bigger tests than this coming up. Personally, I won’t read so much into these matches because it is not a great advertisement for Test cricket. Effectively, it ran only over three days in what was a mis-matched contest. I think we are going to start seeing more and more of that, especially as traditional Test match skills wane, and you will find that ‘away’ performances will start getting worse.
This is not to take away credit from the Indians and their performance in the match. Cheteshwar Pujara’s 159 was a huge innings. He raked in 137 points on the Castrol Index, the second highest for India. Because of the expectations from him, the disappointment was Virat Kohli’s innings of 58. And the fact that a 58 is a disappointment means that we have started holding him in that kind of regard; that a half-century is seen as a disappointment. But we must understand that he is still a single digit Test player, a young man, and he will learn. But Pujara was very impressive. I hope we can now groom him to be a regular No. 3 elsewhere as well. I don’t know what India’s programme is but if he spends some time playing county cricket in England next year, it will further his cricket education.
There was all this debate before the Test match started on who will get the No. 3 slot. For me, Pujara getting the position is an example of the faith that MS Dhoni has shown in these young players. In one of the interviews, Pujara said that he has been told the previous day he is batting at No 3, which is a very good to do by a captain. I am very happy for him because for the last three-four years he has gone through tough times. I like people who encounter adversity and come out of it and start to do well. Sport is also about overcoming off the field and carrying that tenacity on to the field. What you see on the field is only a fraction of the real drama.
The Top Performer for India, according to the Castrol Index, was Ravichandran Ashwin with a whopping 213 points. It doesn’t matter that it was on a pitch conducive to spin. Twelve wickets is still a lot. If a fast bowler gets 12 wickets on bouncy pitches in Australia or in overcast conditions in England, one still says ‘Wow!’, Which is the same with Ashwin. And he got important wickets, not just the tail-enders. It was a top performance by a bowler who is showing great signs of improvement. He strikes me as someone who is thinking about his game. I enjoyed watching him bowl in whatever little I saw, and it is good to see another straight arm off-spinner taking wickets.
Overall, Pujara and Ashwin were huge positives for India going into the next Test at Bangalore. The entire team would have gained in confidence and momentum following the first Test and will be looking to do a clean sweep in the second.
(Harsha Bhogle is respected mediaperson who, over the years, has given commentary on All India Radio, Australia Broadcasting Corporation, British Broadcasting Corporation, ESPN Star Sports and many others. Harsha has also authored numerous cricket books and is the Cricket Brand Ambassador of castrolcricket.com. Castrol Cricket is the official performance partner of the International Cricket Council and is a sponsor of the 2012 ICC World Twenty20)