New batting crop shows plenty of fortitude

History has always been created when it’s least expected. That persuasive and often path-changing process was enacted at the Wanderers stadium over the course of the first Test match between India and South Africa.

Of course, the end result of the Test match and the fight produced by two South Africans -- Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers -- will be part of the folklore. But the Indian batsmen created history against the widespread perception of them being a bunch of mere pushovers.

A group of young Indian batsmen arrived in South Africa with the excess baggage of history weighing them down. After all, they have taken the mantle from players such as Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly, men who established India as a power away from home.

It has been a lofty and tough legacy to live up to. Not only the weight of history, but South Africa too offered them a fresh challenge. It may have been named Rainbow Nation with a happy ring to it, but batsmen from other nations don’t often find this place a hospitable one.

Fast wickets, hostile pace bowlers and oppressive weather often make their life difficult here, and this set of Indian batsmen too had to negate those hurdles. If that is a common challenge for all the visiting batsmen, the new generation Indian batsmen -- except Cheteshwar Pujara -- also had to battle the stigma imposed on them being flat track bullies and over-hyped IPL stars set to doom against world’s best pace attack consisting Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander.

But they overcame each of those impediments bravely, showing rare courage against a set of accomplished pacers. Indeed, Steyn was visibly below his best and Morkel had to limp out of the match with an ankle sprain, but the hosts still had Philander and Jacques Kallis, who in a pitch like the one at the Wanderers could torment the opposition.

But they couldn’t rattle this young Indians except in patches. Even a batsman like M Vijay, whose was written off even before the tour had began, blocked the South African pacers. His second wicket association with Pujara in the second innings played a good role in giving them the foundation to gun for a bigger total.

Pujara was his rock solid self in the whole of the Test match, and Virat Kohli yet again underlined his maturity as a batsman and individual with a 119 in the first innings, and 96 in the second dig. Ajinkya Rahane showed his utility with a 47 down the order, helping India to extend the overall lead past the 400-run mark, and his two direct hits to dismiss Graeme Smith and Du Plessis gave an opening that India were looking frantically looking.     
Here was a team playing out of the skin desperate to prove the world wrong, carve their own place in history. Kohli surmised the attitude. “Every single person in this team is hungry to go out there and win a game for their country and their team. That is the biggest factor that has changed the way we played in the last one-year.

“It is because everyone is hungry and desperate to go out there and perform and win from any situation. We have done that before, we came back in the West Indies when we were down and out so this team has shown a lot of character in difficult situations.

“So, you give us any situation and we will look to find a way to come out of it. If we are in trouble we will look to come out and if we are dominating to we will keep dominating,” said Kohli.

The first Test justified Kohli’s words. In the first innings, they had to play for survival after losing three early wickets, and in the second essay they dominated South Africa with ease.  It was a methodical assault than just barefaced aggression. Former South African skipper Kepler Wessles explained it.

“Indian batsmen’s technique was just brilliant. Leaving the ball was a key feature of their innings. Their mental approach while building the innings and the way almost all of them went about constructing their innings, on both innings, was quite something,” said Wessels.

Now, no longer they are scarred or scared. But they are a group of young men who have turned the first few pages of history, eyeing hordes of brighter tomorrows.

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