For years, since my playing days and even before that, I have constantly heard one line from cricket pundits, coaches, and players. They always say to win a Test match the most important thing is to take 20 wickets. It is an undeniable truth that nobody can debate. But this is not the whole truth. To win Tests, you also need runs. A big score in the first innings, batting first or second, is equally important. Scoreboard pressure is an important aspect of cricket, it makes the bowling unit’s job easy. The cushion of a 400 plus total gives a captain the courage to set attacking fields and implement his plans.
Take your mind to the final moments of the second India-South Africa Test match at Johannesburg. With South Africa closing on the winning target and Dean Elgar well set, India went on the defensive. This is not a criticism, they had to since the target wasn’t too big. And this is the reason, I think the return of Virat Kohli will help India a lot.
He is a champion batsman and an excellent leader. I think the team missed him in the second Test match, more so the leader Kohli. He is a bowler’s captain and that is what you need to excel at this level. Like I have always said you do need 20 wickets from the bowlers to win a Test but before that the batsmen need to set up the games. So at Cape Town, I would hope that Kohli the batsman sets up the game and Kohli the captain can tighten the screws with the help of his bowlers.
From a batting point of view, I think Kohli should just get into the classical Test match batting mode. With a tall left-hander in the opposition and others homing in on his off-stump, Kohli will have to leave a lot of balls on line as well as length. He has been in this situation before where bowlers are searching for his weaknesses but Kohli has come out on top. Just like on 2018 India’s tour to England where he didn’t get out to James Anderson. Kohli has to score if India has to win.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane also stuck out with their good showing in the second innings in Johannesburg. Both looked assured in their shot selection and game plans, especially Pujara. His footwork, positive mindset gelled together to produce batting with positive intent. Everyone is asking the same question: If Pujara can bat like that in the second innings of a Test match and that too when the score read 24 for one when he came out to bat, why can’t he do it more often? Perhaps he is prospering in the support that he is getting from coach Rahul Dravid. Is there a technical change in Pujara’s batting? Except for playing more off the front foot, I don’t think Pujara has changed much. He should hit the first ball if it is there to be hit, period. There is no point blocking a bad ball just because you are new to the crease.
Apart from the ICC World Test Championship, this game (India vs South Africa 3rd Test) holds a lot of relevance. We have never won a series in South Africa and this is the best chance to change that. South Africa is not a strong team and India’s plans look good. I am backing India to come out of this one 2-1.