India fearless in the face of green tops

While New Zealand await India with quick, bouncy tracks, it is perhaps, the best opportunity for a young Indian side to get rid of their reputation of being poor performers on green tops.

Updated: January 11, 2014 18:50 IST
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Once upon a time, foreign teams knew that the best way to bully and beat a touring Indian side was to taunt the players with pace and bounce. Green tops were meticulously prepared to 'welcome' the sub-continent team. That time is now over! Well, almost over, anyway.

India's young brigade of batsmen believe in a simple principle - harder you bowl, harder we hit. This was on ample display in the team's recent tour to South Africa. While the Test series was lost 0-1, the team's batting was a much brighter reflection of its former self. For example, it was the first time that the top-three scorers in a Test series in South Africa were Indians - Cheteshwar Pujara (280), Virat Kohli (272) and Ajinkya Rahane (209). The trio showed excellent application - hooking, pulling and most importantly, ducking at the right moments. This augurs well ahead of the ODI and Test series in New Zealand.

Kiwis to go green

Kiwi coach Mike Hesson has made no secret of the fact that green-tops, not his bowlers, will be the main weapon against India. Curators may be putting in extra hours to prepare quick pitches but Indian batsmen too appear to be up to the challenge. The realization that India's strength is its batting - regardless of venues and conditions, will further bolster India's prospects against New Zealand who punch above their weight in home conditions.

New Zealand have been beaten by India in 18 Tests overall, winning on nine occasions. The Kiwis however, have largely dominated proceedings against India at home - winning four of the eight series' played since 1955-56. Honours were shared in two other tours.

Times change and so does the approach. India defeated New Zealand when they last toured here in 2008-09. With in-form Pujara, Kohli and Rahane raring to fire, green-top alone may not be a challenge good enough.

Men in blue who may paint a different hue

Pujara and Kohli stood tall against a menacing pace attack led by Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander. Although the two bowlers managed to dominate a few sessions, they were made to toil as well. Even Rahane ensured that he put a price on his wicket. Although he had played just one Test before the tour, the 25-year-old's sensible batting was admirable. For example, he was struck on his helmet twice by Steyn and yet, instead of buckling down, Rahane continued to respect the good deliveries and punish the bad ones.

That India's top-three scorers hit 98 boundaries in the two Tests - 30 more than hit by South Africa's top-three run-getters, is a sign that this team means business.

Punch is a five-man job

India's new generation of fierce batsmen has Pujara, Kohli and Rahane. But it also has two others who have roared loudly at home, only to falter in South Africa.

Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have been in prime form but it did not show in the recent tour. While Dhawan failed to build on his starts, Rohit looked out-of-sorts. Their combined total of 121 runs from the two Tests hardly does justice to their caliber. What also doesn't do justice to their skills is the manner in which they were dismissed. Dhawan almost repeatedly gifted his wicket after starting on a positive note - 29 being his best score. Rohit failed to read the pitch and the deliveries - caught behind, bowled, bowled and LBW being how he was dismissed in his four innings. Both Dhawan and Rohit will need to acclimatize quickly and spend maximum time in practice sessions ahead of the New Zealand tour.

Hit or hide

Cricket, after all that has been said and done, is a contest between bat and ball. It is a contest between minds, between talents. The true strength of a batsman does not lie in his strike-rate as much as it does in his ability to adapt and be versatile.

These are the qualities that Indian batsmen will seek to showcase in what may also be a 'statement of purpose' ahead of the ICC World Cup here next year.

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