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Kohli’s renaissance, Iyer’s away troubles & more: series takeaways for India

Last updated on 04 Jan 2024 | 02:20 PM
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Kohli’s renaissance, Iyer’s away troubles & more: series takeaways for India

We look at the key takeaways for team India from the two-Test series in South Africa

Kohli might be in for a special 18 months in Tests

Across 2022 and 2023, Virat Kohli showed that he’s officially ‘back’ in both ODIs and T20Is, but a signature Test performance was missing. Yes, he posted an 186 versus Australia in Ahmedabad, but that came on one of the flattest tracks witnessed in recent times. 

After his showing across these two Tests against South Africa, though, there’s little doubt that he’s ‘officially back’, in Test cricket too.

In a series that was played on tracks designed for batters to fail, Kohli proved to be the standout across both teams, amassing 172 runs at an average of 43 and a strike rate close to 80. Dean Elgar scored 29 more runs than Kohli in the series, but the difference was that while 92% of Elgar’s runs in the series came in one knock in Centurion, Kohli crossed the 35-run mark on three separate occasions. 

In all fairness, he would have ended up with more runs had he not run out of partners in the second innings in Centurion and first innings in Cape Town. 

With Kohli not just looking assured but dominating the bowling like his peak self, there are exciting times ahead. 

He could be in for a special year or so in Tests, considering he is playing five Tests against England at home, and then is traveling to his favorite touring country, Australia, for another five-match series towards the end of the year. 

Prasidh Krishna still not polished enough for Test cricket

Prior to the series, there was a lot of excitement around the imminent Test debut of Prasidh Krishna, whose profile seemed ideal for bouncy South African wickets. In Mohammed Shami’s absence, Prasidh played both Test matches, but the 27-year-old turned out to be the biggest disappointment of the series for the visitors. He finished a bowler-friendly series with 2 wickets in 3 innings at an average of 65 and E.R of 4.64.

Across the 28 overs he bowled, Prasidh did not threaten a lot, but the bigger issue with him was the lack of control. Far too often he sprayed it around, not stringing together enough good balls. Due to this, he turned into a ‘pressure release’ option for South Africa every time he was brought into the attack by skipper Rohit Sharma.

Prasidh’s inexperience was clear across the 2 Tests. What was evident was that he was still raw, and needed a lot of refining for this level. And that’s understandable, considering he entered the series with just 12 first-class matches under his belt.

What should be high on the management’s agenda, going forward, is getting Prasidh play as much FC cricket as possible in the next 12 or so months. The absence of a reliable ‘stock ball’ showed in South Africa — it can only be corrected by playing red-ball cricket. 

The jury is still out on Shreyas Iyer outside Asia

India might have moved on from both Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari, but the jury is still very much out on Shreyas Iyer outside the subcontinent. The right-hander, playing the 11th and 12th match of his Test career, had a pretty tough time across the two Tests, registering two single-digit scores and an overall average of just 13.66. 

More than the numbers, the concern was how unassured and troubled he looked: among all Indian batters, Iyer had the second-lowest control percentage in the series (71.4%). He scored 31 runs in the first innings in Centurion but there, he was the beneficiary of a drop catch while he was batting on 4.

The sample size is small, but Iyer’s numbers outside Asia don’t look great. Not just in Tests but overall, in first-class cricket.

In Tests, he now averages 15.00 in 6 innings outside Asia without a fifty-plus score. In FC cricket, meanwhile, the subsequent number is 21, with him registering just one fifty in 12 innings, against South Africa ‘A’ back in 2017. 

Iyer is still a key piece for India in home Tests, but with five Tests away in Australia coming up in 11 months’ time, he’ll need to up his game in order to be a point of difference outside the subcontinent.

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KL Rahul passes his first test with flying colours

If these two Tests are any evidence to go by, it does feel like India have found their fix for the wicket-keeper conundrum in Test cricket. KL Rahul was always going to get an extended run as a wicket-keeper in the Test side, following uninspiring stints from KS Bharat and Ishan Kishan, but India will be pleased to see Rahul quickly get up to speed.

Rahul’s first big test came in Centurion, walking in at 92/4 in a situation alien to him, and he passed that with flying colours, compiling a sublime, chanceless 101 to drag the side to a competitive total. Many wondered if he would adapt to the No.6 role after predominantly batting up the order in Tests, and he answered that question in his first ever knock as a wicket-keeper.

The second question was whether his glovework would hold up at the Test level. Rahul had a couple of bad moments with the gloves in the series (the drop of Jansen in Centurion and Markram in Cape Town), but, overall, he was solid and inspired a lot of confidence. Never did one get the feeling that a part-timer keeper was standing behind the stumps for the visitors.

The more Rahul keeps, the more secure and better he will become. Hence, all in all, India will be encouraged by the 31-year-old’s showing in his maiden series as a keeper-batter, that too in extreme conditions.

Reliable Mukesh Kumar is turning into a valuable asset 

Mukesh Kumar has never been a fan favorite or a ‘popular pick’ due to his simplistic nature (both as a person and a bowler), but the right-armer is turning into a valuable asset for the side thanks to the consistency and reliability he brings to the table.

Drafted into the XI for the second Test in place of Shardul Thakur, Mukesh, in Cape Town, finished with match figures of 4/56, doing a tidy job for the side whenever he was called upon. He was off radar in the morning session of Day 2 but it was he who shattered the South African resistance late on Day 1, removing both Elgar and Tony de Zorzi in the space of three overs. 

A metronomic bowler by nature, Mukesh kept hitting the right areas without overcomplicating things, and duly got rewarded for his patience.

It’s now become clear that Mukesh is the fourth seamer in the pecking order, behind Bumrah, Shami and Siraj. And he’s earned the right to be the next cab in the rank. 

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