Practice sessions are a poor substitute for match play. But once India's entire two-day tour game against a South African Invitation XI at Willowmoore Park was washed out, MS Dhoni used the downtime to send out enough vibes that Virat Kohli would be the batsman who replaces Sachin Tendulkar at No.4 in Tests.
Kohli’s ascension to the spot vacated by Tendulkar was assumed to be a given and his only competition was expected to come from Rohit Sharma, who was on a terrific run coming to South Africa. But the Mumbaikar’s torrid time in the ODIs that preceded the Tests would have likely swung the pendulum in the Delhiite’s favour.
On Saturday, India approached the nets with a specific batting order: Openers Shikhar Dhawan and M Vijay, followed by Cheteshwar Pujara, followed by Kohli at No.4. Kohli made good use of the time by interspersing attack with defence, making sure that the short-pitched stuff that Mohammad Shami and Ishant Sharma were sending his way did not find its mark.
Then again, confidence was never a commodity lacking in the 25-year-old.
“I know you guys will make a lot about this No. 4 slot, but if I know Virat, he wouldn't be thinking about it. He will look to play with an open mind," said Ray Jennings, former South Africa coach who has also spent a lot of time with Kohli as part of the Royal Challengers Bangalore camp.
“Virat has played at No. 3 in ODIs and has batted at No. 5 in Tests. He understands the dynamics of batting at the top and the No. 4 slot can be a natural progression for him. He is also a hungry batsman and he would like to go one slot up," Jennings added.
Trouble against pace
Kohli made just 31 runs in two innings in the ODIs, and perished to the short ball on both occasions. He can expect a bombardment with more short stuff once the Test series commences with the first Test at the Wanderers on December 18.
“It's going to be quite a difficult test for him. South Africa in South African conditions will try to exploit his weaknesses. When you look at Virat Kohli as a batsman, he's a superb player of spin. If there is any weakness, it's while facing fast bowling,” Jennings said.
The former Proteas coach said that he had identified a couple of weaknesses in Kohli’s technique, but he was not the kind to leak the information to the South African camp.
“I’ve seen one or two things in the last two innings. I'm sure he's good enough and Duncan Fletcher is smart enough to rectify those issues. It's unfair for me to publicly talk about those weaknesses,” he concluded.
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