Indian batsmen in numbers ahead of Proteas Tests

The world No. 1 Test side braces itself for its toughest challenge in the last two years, and we take a look at how the Indian batsmen have fared in the last 12 months and their overseas record.

Balanced team... Kohli and Co. believe that they have the skills, the talent to adapt to most conditions, and a bowling attack that can adapt to all conditions in the world.   -  Sandeep Saxena

A tour of South Africa has always been difficult for Indian teams. Like England, pitches generously offer swing, and like Australia, generate bounce, too. It takes fortitude, patience and some bravery to carve out runs against what is usually an array of hostile fast bowlers; resistance acts against them have formed some inspiring moments, such as the against-the-run partnership of 222 between Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Azharuddin in 1996-97, or the pugnacious centuries of Tendulkar in 2010-11, or the defiant innings of 96 from Ajinkya Rahane in 2013.

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The challenge facing India cannot be asserted enough, considering it has played mostly at home and in flat pitches abroad in the last two years. Moreover, in a likely scenario, the duo of Dale Steyn (who has indicated his availability for the series) and Morne Morkel will be aided in their efforts by the pacy Kagiso Rabada. Batsmen, who are now used to a diet of cannon fodder off placid tracks around the country, will have to acquaint themselves quickly to a very different scenario.

India has a line-up of in-form and prolific batsmen, most of whom have plundered plenty of runs to carve out their team’s current period of domination. However, they will now need sufficient adaptability skills to underline their status as ‘complete’ batsmen.

What are their prospects in South Africa? Let’s find out.

Murali Vijay

The opener recently made a successful comeback to the Test team with two centuries against Sri Lanka, in Nagpur and New Delhi. Ahead of the series, he had indicated his relevance by scoring a century for Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy.

Murali Vijay is considered to be India's best opener for the upcoming Tour of South Africa, however, he averages 28.60 in nine Tests against it.   -  AFP

 

Vijay has makings of an all-round batsman, with his penchant for surviving testing phases of fast bowling in England and Australia. He was India’s highest run-getter in what was otherwise a sorry tour of England in 2014, having scored a century and two fifties, including a 95 that contributed to India’s victory at Lord’s.

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He continued his good form in the tour of Australia soon after, conveying his expertise against pace and bounce, too. This time, he was the second highest run-getter for India (after Virat Kohli), with 482 runs, which included a century – at the bouncy Gabba, no less – and four fifties.

For all his runs in these countries, however, Vijay hasn’t impressed against South Africa. He averages 28.60 in nine Tests against this team, with only one innings of note – 97 in Durban in 2013. That he has been dismissed six times by Morne Morkel is another concern, considering he is sure to meet this bowler again.

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Rohit Sharma

Rohit Sharma has been in and out of the Test team in recent years owing to his fluctuating form.   -  AFP

 

The plunderer of bowling attacks in One-Day Internationals is a shadow of his destructive self in the longer format, especially abroad.

Sharma’s numbers in Australia, England and South Africa suggest he is a different batsman in unfamiliar scenarios. He scored 173 runs at an average of 28.83 in Australia in the 2014-15 tour; in the 2014 England tour he played only one Test, scoring 34. In South Africa, he has batted in four innings, scoring a total of 45 runs.

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Sharma’s poor numbers in these countries can be seen in a broader light; his batting average away from home is 26.33, and at home is 85.44. There is no wonder he has been in and out of the Test team.

Currently, though, he has been in prime form in Tests as well as ODIs. He scored two fifties and a century against Sri Lanka in the recently concluded series at home. This was a prelude to his third double-century in ODIs, in Mohali. The way he manufactures runs in a typical fashion when on song makes him a treat to watch, but it seems the circumstances must suit him.

KL Rahul

The attacking opener has been demonstrating his value to stay afloat in the race for the India spot among the three candidates – besides him, Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan. In the chance he received to open against Sri Lanka in Kolkata, he scored 79. This was preceded by a knock of 92 for Karnataka against Delhi in the Ranji Trophy.

KL Rahul averages 48.69, with nine half-centuries in 2017 against Australia and Sri Lanka.   -  GP Sampath Kumar

 

Rahul hasn’t played in England or South Africa, and so hasn’t been tested in those specific environments of balls seaming around.

He has been to Australia, though, where he made his debut in the 2014-15 season. However, considering the tracks there weren’t too hostile to batsmen his numbers cannot demonstrate his readiness to face Morkel & Co. in South Africa. His only century (110) arrived in a high-scoring contest in Sydney that was drawn.

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The 25-year-old's run of form this year has been good. In nine Tests, he averages 48.69, with nine half-centuries.

Cheteshwar Pujara

Pujara has been prolific in terms of form since the 2015 Tour of Sri Lanka.   -  AP

 

The No. 3 batsman seems to have all the signs of a player who can excel in all conditions or circumstances. However, this appearance isn’t totally reflected in the career that has actually panned out for him; impressive though his numbers have been in Tests, he has suffered blips of form and looked uncertain (though not always) against the pacers of England, Australia and South Africa.

In the four Tests he has played in the rainbow nation, he averages 44.42. His analysis greatly improved in the 2013 tour when he scored a century and a fifty in two Tests. His knock of 153 in Johannesburg took India to a commanding position and within a sniff of victory – a rare occasion of dominance in that country. In the corresponding tour of 2010-11, when he was just starting out, he had scored 31 runs in three innings.

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Pujara didn’t have successful tours of England or Australia, in the 2014 and the 2014-15 season. In the three Tests he played against Australia, he scored a single half-century in a total of 201 runs scored, at 33.50. In England, he had just scored 222 runs in five Tests, shakily getting out even after having ground out the initial phase of struggle against the seamers.

Those days are quite a world away for him now, as he has been prolific and looked comfortable on the crease ever since his return to the Test team in India’s 2015 tour of Sri Lanka. In the current year, he has maintained an average of 67.05 in 11 Tests.

Shikhar Dhawan

The southpaw from Delhi is currently riding a wave, with a new phase of prolific run-making. In 2017, he has scored 550 runs in five Tests at an average of 68.75.

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He scored two half-centuries in two Tests against Sri Lanka in the recent Test series at home, before scoring 68 and an unbeaten 100 in the ODI series, the last one taking India to a series victory.

However, Dhawan's struggles in the unfamiliar kind of pitches in other continents are well documented. He scored just 167 runs in three Tests in Australia in the 2014-15 tour; this was a better performance than during the 2014 tour of England, where he scored 122 runs in three Tests.

In 2017, Dhawan has scored 550 runs in five Tests at an average of 68.75   -  AP

 

In the tour of South Africa in 2013, the year of his Test debut, Dhawan had even poorer numbers. He had scored 76 runs in two Tests, at an average of 19. In the four Tests he played against the same team at home two years ago, he struggled once more. He is yet to score a fifty or a century against South Africa in the six Tests he has played against it.

Although his batting average of 45.51 isn’t terrible, his numbers seem to have been inflated by the runs he has scored in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Dhawan, however, acquainted himself well in the playing conditions of unfamiliar New Zealand in 2014; he scored a century and a half-century from two Tests in an exciting series.

Will he reverse the trend in South Africa this time around?

Ajinkya Rahane

Rahane is the only batsman among the crop whose current form has been iffy. He registered scores of 1, 10, 2, 4, and 0 in the three Tests he played against Sri Lanka recently. He had failed to score a fifty even in the two first-class matches before embarking on the Tests.

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In the ODI series against Australia, though, he came under the spotlight for the right reasons. He scored four half-centuries in a row to help India gain a series victory against Steve Smith’s men. Overall, though, he has been lacklustre in Tests in 2017, scoring 554 runs in 11 Tests at an average of 34.62.

Rahane registered scores of 1, 10, 2, 4, and 0 in the three Tests he played against Sri Lanka at home in 2017.   -  AFP

 

Rahane is an anomaly among the current Indian batsmen on another front; he is the only player who has delivered good performances in England, Australia and South Africa.

He scored a famous century at Lord’s to lay the base for an Indian victory, in 2014. He was India’s third-highest run getter in the series, after Vijay and M. S. Dhoni. He demonstrated competence in the tour of Australia (2014-15) too, scoring 399 runs in four Tests.

Rahane’s South Africa tour, a year earlier, generated good numbers, too, but more than the stats, it was his innings of 96 that depicted his readiness to deal with the best bowlers in difficult batting conditions. On a wearing pitch at Durban, against Steyn, Morkel and Vernon Philander, with wickets falling all around him, and with a tail to protect, Rahane stood defiant. The next highest score was 32 as the team compiled only 223. Rahane’s effort may have been in vain, as India lost comprehensively, but it was enough to avoid the ignominy of an innings defeat.

Rahane has good analysis in West Indies and New Zealand, too, making him a key player to handle the forthcoming challenge that awaits the number 1 ranked Test side.

Virat Kohli

To say the India captain is enjoying a good phase in terms of run-making would be an understatement. Kohli has been scoring runs at will, and his numbers are big as his name suggests. He obliterated the Sri Lankan bowling attack single-handedly in the home series recently, piling on 610 runs in five innings, including back-to-back double-centuries.

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He has been in prime form in ODIs and Twenty20 Internationals, too, making him look invincible.

However, this aura fades in the scrutiny of his performances in England. Amid the proliferation of flat pitches everywhere, England offers the rare test in cold, seaming conditions where runs have to be eked out with sagacity. This is the only arena where he has struggled, scoring 134 runs in 10 innings, suggesting he cannot handle the moving ball very well.

Virat Kohli scored three double centuries in the 2017 calendar year.   -  Sandeep Saxena

 

Kohli has performed better in South Africa; in the 2013 tour of that country, he allied with Rahane to give India the chance to go 1-0 up in the first Test in Johannesburg, scoring a century and 96. In the 2014-15 tour of Australia, he emerged as India’s leading run-getter in what turned out to be the coronation of his new role of captain. Overall, in Australia, he has scored five centuries and two fifties.

That he is currently colossal is also suggested by his numbers in 2017. In 10 matches, he has scored 1059 runs at an average of 75.64; this was preceded by a similarly prolific year for him.

Can he continue in the same vein in South Africa?