Opinion: Kohli and company are the complete package

Blog Opinion

Freddie Wilde believes presumption and judgment of India's new era of Test match batsmen was too swift. Virat Kohli and company can handle all conditions, not just flat sub-continental pitches, after all.

Not many people foresaw the events at the Wanderers. I think we were all cynical of India's new generation. After all, it is, and forever has been in cricket, in vogue to be suspicious.

We as followers of the game are more often than not paranoid of change and evolution. Perhaps that is the nature of the sport; indeed Gideon Haigh in his book Sphere Of Influence, posits that cricket does worry more than any other.

India were routed in the ODI series. Doubts over their ability to play the short ball were being reinforced. Their only warm-up match had been abandoned without a ball bowled. Sachin Tendulkar was finally gone. Here lay India's new generation, the IPL generation, the generation of modern, glitzy, glamorous India – living-life-in-the-fast-lane-India, and now they were going to play cricket in the fast lane, and few suspected they'd survive. It was in a way the perfect storm for a failure.

But looking back, we actually knew very little of the actual ability of this batting order against genuinely fast bowling, on good bowling pitches, away from home. Our cynicism was mostly unfounded, or at least based in presumptions and judgements that we were largely unable to substantiate. Our subconscious presuppositions clouded our vision.

That Indian sides have struggled in South Africa and against fast bowling is, as generalisations go, an acceptably accurate one. But it is the curse of sporting narrative for us to therefore conclude Indian batsmen as a collective entity cannot play fast bowling. A judgement we make by lending disproportionate weight to the most frequently occurring events of the past without evaluating the evidence presented by the players in question.

An anecdote that emphasises such misconceptions is that on the first day of the Test the commentary team relentlessly told us that Virat Kohli was the only player in India's team to have scored a Test century outside of the sub-continent. A statistic which, although true, doesn't take account of the fact that before the Test began Chesteshwar Pujura had played just two Tests outside of Asia, while Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane had played none – not exactly a sample size of any relevance.

It was telling I felt, on the third evening of the match when Sanjay Manjrekar, said of Pujara and Kohli" Tthey look like rock stars: spiky hair, tattoos, but are batting like guys from the 50s & 60s."

Image is, in the 21st century, everything, but at the same time, nothing. What Dhawan looks like, or what car Kohli drives, or who Rohit is dating should not influence our sporting judgement of them. But too often we fall foul of such stereotyping, especially so in the modern era. Other players such as Jade Dernbach, Kevin Pietersen, and Brendon McCullum are similarly unfortunate.

In cricketing-reality, Kohli is arguably the most talented cricketer on the planet. Dhawan can perhaps call this year his. Sharma scored back-to-back centuries in his first two Test matches just weeks ago and an ODI double century days before that. These are not the biographies of batsmen destined for failure, regardless of the conditions or opposition. Their tangible performances warrant for respect than the pessimism that greeted them in South Africa. Admittedly Ajinkya Rahane, and to a lesser extent Murali Vijay, were unknown commodities, but surely we should therefore hold our judgement rather than pass it without a second thought?

Too often in sport we judge, presume and generalise on players – and worse still character and personality – without knowing nearly enough about them. Yes, India's batsmen had struggled to score runs in the limited-overs series, but that was in a different format, with no warm-up fixtures behind them; judgements were too swiftly made.

Ultimately, away from the hype and cynicism, Vijay, Pujara, Kohli and Rahane batted beautifully against for the most part, superb Test match bowling in unfamiliar conditions. Rarely can Indian fans have seen a day of Test cricket away from home so dominated by their team than day three. It was in particular the caution and circumspection highlighted by the excellent judgement of Pujara and Kohli leaving the ball outside off stump that really resonated. Kohli especially, clothed in wealth and celebrity at just 24 years of age, and with little need for the rigours of Test cricket, demonstrated the ineffable pull of the game's longest format; the allure of its majesty; the driving force of its regard. A pull, an allure and a regard that many people felt may be lost on this generation of players. Well, how wrong they were.

Of course, India may yet be burnt by pace in Durban – I doubt it, but they could be. But even if they are, even if they are flattened by Dale Steyn and company, then at least in Johannesburg; Vijay, Pujara, Kohli and Rahane, have not only shown that they can cope at the highest level away from home, but they have shown that they can compete and succeed, and that's far more than a lot of people ever thought possible.

<b>Freddie Wilde</b>