The first Test that India played in the post Sachin Tendulkar period drove home the fact that while the batting is in good hands the bowling could continue to pose problems particularly away from home. The last point is of utmost importance given that India will be playing Tests in New Zealand, England and Australia during 2014.
The one blip in the batting could be at the top of the order. But Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay deserve more chances to prove their capabilities in the hope that they might succeed. Dhawan after the sensational start to his Test career certainly should be persevered with for he is the kind of batsman who can decimate any bowling on his day.
His naturally aggressive approach marks him out as a dangerous opponent and should he come off he is the kind of player who can give an explosive, even match winning start.
Vijay is working hard on his technique. That came through in the second innings at Johannesburg when he dug in and played each ball on its merit. Courage and the ability to stick it out in the face of hostile bowling is a handy quality to have. But Vijay is no strokeless wonder and can also keep the scoreboard moving at a decent rate.
The best thing about the Indian batting is the No 3 and No 4. There can be little doubt now that Cheteswar Pujara has replaced Rahul Dravid as ``The Wall.’’. If anything he is going from strength to strength.
The figures associated with his name are of the mind boggling and eye rubbing variety. Any batsman who averages 67 after 26 innings with six hundreds including two double centuries is right up there with the best in the world. Most important he blends caution with aggression in the right doses.
There was never any doubt that Virat Kohli was Tendulkar’s successor at No 4. But even his most ardent supporter would not have bargained for him being such a whopping success so soon. In scoring 119 and 96 Kohli underscored the fact that he is the finest batsman in the line-up and he will be the one to whom Indian cricket followers will look up to for great deeds.
There is everything to be optimistic about the other two batsmen to follow. In their limited opportunities Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane have shown that they deserve to be persevered with. They have the class, skill and talent to come good and should they fail occasionally it is a case of potential far outweighing performance.
Yes, there is nothing to worry about the batting and the line-up has already earned plaudits from former South African captain Kepler Wessels who has spoken in glowing terms about their technique and mental approach.
The bowling has traditionally been Indian cricket’s weakness. So often even with the likes of Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh around it was the star-studded batting line-up that quite often covered up for them.
After all anything was achievable with Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman around. But while the batting slots have been filled adequately the bowling gives the impression that it can only do well under certain conditions. South Africa scoring 450 for seven on a fourth innings wicket exposed their limitations.
Zaheer Khan might have crossed an important landmark at Johannesburg but it is clear that he cannot be around for much longer. It is a tribute that he has fought against injuries and lapses of form to last for so long and be successful but there were times when he was struggling during the Test. At 35 he is clearly past his best and was recalled only because he has a good record in South Africa. One just cannot see him last throughout 2014.
With his performance in the first innings Ishant Sharma gave some hope that he can succeed in favourable conditions but he lapsed into mediocrity the second time around and there must be lingering doubts about how much he can contribute in the future. Young Mohammed Shami was clearly the best of the trio giving rise to speculation that Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar would be better choices for the tours ahead.
The gravest disappointment was Ravichandran Ashwin who is fast turning out to be Indian cricket’s biggest enigma. Indian spin bowlers generally have better records at home as compared to abroad and this is only to be expected.
But in Ashwin’s case the disparity is too marked to just shrug it away. At home he is the master of all he surveys as his impressive bag of 95 wickets from 15 Tests at an average of 24 illustrate. But to say that he has been a failure abroad is to put it mildly.
He has taken just nine wickets in four Tests in Australia and South Africa at almost 75 apiece. His going without a wicket at Johannesburg after bowling 42 overs is a matter of concern for Ashwin is the No 1 Indian spin bowler and is expected to live up to his exalted status.
There is no reason to believe that Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra or Pragyan Ojha will fare any better so it is up to Ashwin to rise to the occasion.