Pujara, Rahane can’t seem to turn a corner as batting woes continue

A porous Indian middle-order became even weaker after back spasms ruled Virat Kohli out of the second Test. Even in the middle of an elongated fallow period, Kohli has been scoring 30s and 40s, and India missed their captain today.

In his absence, the onus fell on two senior batsmen, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, to raise their game. Pujara is horribly out of form at the moment. Rahane, despite not scoring big in the first Test at Centurion, looked good and showed intent. Both came to this tour walking a tightrope and so far they have failed to live up to the pressure.

On Monday, if Pujara fell prey to extra bounce, Rahane played a loose shot. Kohli’s replacement, Hanuma Vihari, got out by committing to front-foot early.

Pujara stays low

To start with, Pujara’s approach to bide his time was fraught with risks. A wicket was always just around the corner on this surface. The Wanderers pitch was unusually dry on Day One all right, but it had its customary bounce, steep enough for the batsmen to leave deliveries on length.

Then again, Pujara has played like this all his life, absorbing pressure and wearing down the bowlers. When out of form, though, he can be in a bind.

South African fast bowlers had a clear plan for Pujara, short ball into the body off a length. A leg gully was in place and a catch narrowly escaped the fielder once.

On the face of it, maybe Pujara was a tad unlucky the way Duanne Olivier’s delivery reared from back-of-a-length and took the shoulder of the bat to point. But Sunil Gavaskar, on air, spoke about Pujara staying low (in his forward press) and how difficult it could be for a batsman to counter the bounce by staying low on this. He didn’t meet the ball below his eye-line and a little more uprightness might have allowed Pujara to counter the extra bounce.

The 33-year-old has been playing his 94th Test, scoring more than 6,600 runs. He has been successful on the bouncier pitches in Australia also. But he is not getting any younger and struggling for form, he failed to smother the bounce.

Rahane fishes outside off

India’s batsman Ajinkya Rahane leaves the field after being dismissed by South Africa’s bowler Duanne Olivier for a duck, during the first day of the 2nd Test Cricket match between South Africa and India at the Wanderers stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Rahane came at No. 4 and got a golden duck, a poor shot bringing about his downfall. Olivier once again bowled back-of-a-length outside off and the batsman hung his bat and gave catching practice to Pietersen at gully. Once again, Gavaskar wasn’t impressed. “After these two dismissals, one can say that they probably have just next innings, both Pujara and Rahane, to save their Test careers,” the batting maestro said while commentating.

Pujara so far has scored 19 runs in three innings. Rahane has 68 runs from three outings.

Vihari’s forward press

As long as the South African pacers were bowling full, Vihari was happily blocking. But Kagiso Rabada and company quickly rectified their mistake, dragged the length back and the batsman was in all sorts of trouble. Rabada made one rise off a length, the ball flew off the inside edge and Rassie van der Dussen took a fine diving catch at short leg. Committing to the front-foot early undid Vihari, who had a good bedding-in period in these conditions before the series, playing for India A.

Ashwin defends batters

Staying upright worked to Ashwin’s advantage, allowing him to play through covers as well. He also played a lofted drive over the bowler’s head.

The senior player offered his insight, as he spoke at the post-day press conference. “Every batsman is different. And you have to skin the cat the way you feel it. And when you go to bat, you also need that bit of luck to go your way. I thought there was a very honest attempt in terms of how we went about our business. Some of those dismissals happen.”

About the pitch, he said: “The pitch was a little two-paced. Generally, Wanderers has a tendency to start a bit slower and then getting a little quicker. It did quicken up a bit, but I think this feels a little different to a typical Wanderers pitch. We have to wait and see how it responds tomorrow.”

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