Cricket - Kohli & Rahul
Captain and the deputy: Virat Kohli and KL Rahul during a chat at the Centurion Park on Tuesday. The first Test begins against South Africa on Boxing Day. Image Credit: Twitter/BCCI

Kolkata: There will be an extra element of pressure on India’s Test skipper Virat Kohli to let his bat talk in the upcoming Test series against South Africa, but a former batting stalwart of the Proteas feels that he is no stranger to it.

‘‘See, Virat (Kohli) has been always under pressure. If he is playing well, there are questions as to can he play better? If he is not playing well, why isn’t he playing well? He’s a proven player and it’s very important that he does well for India to do well in the series. If he’s battling, India will battle,’’ feels Daryll Cullinan, a vital cog in the South African batting line-up during the times of Hansie Cronje.

Taking time out to speak to Gulf News exclusively from South Africa, Cullinan was candid about the fact that he is among the legion of admirers of the Indian Test captain’s batting. A series in South Africa is always a challenging one, more so for India who had failed to break the hoodoo of winning a single Test series there but Cullinan feels they can draw heart from a spirited performance last time in 2018.

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‘‘During their last tour, India relied heavily on Kohli. In Cape Town, his head was moving a bit too much but in Johannesburg, he played beautifully. I like the way he goes about his game and builds his innings. He will surely want to do well in South Africa as it’s a country where top batters want to do well and leave their mark,’’ said Cullinan, still the owner of a highest individual innings score (337) in South African cricket.

Cullinan agrees with the general perception that the upcoming series will be a battle between South African fast bowlers and Indian batting - though Anrich Nortje’s absence will be a huge blow for the hsosts. ‘‘Yes, it could well be the case. South Africa need to leave something on their pitches for the seam bowlers. If India can start well, then they can go into the series as favourites,’’ he said.

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Let’s pray we should see three completed Test matches due to the Covid threat, says Daryll Cullinan. Image Credit: Gulf News archive

What would be the right recipe, according to Cullinan, to do well in the highly anticipated series which will be played behind closed doors in view of cases of new Covid variant on tormer he rise there? ‘‘The key is to show application and be good against the new ball. The first 30 overs of each innings are very critical as after that, the Kookaburra ball softens a bit. A total of 350-400 in the first innings can set the tone of the Test match and the series,’’ he said.

Asked to assess the hosts’ chances in the series, in light of a somewhat cohesive performance in the T20 World Cup despite failing to get past the knockout stages, Cullinan said it would be a completely different ballgame in the next three weeks. ‘‘If I am correct, it will be Dean Elgar’s first series as captain. They also haven’t played Tests in a while and hence, they could be slow starters. They should not be timid and the batsmen need to put runs on the board to back their bowlers,’’ said Cullinan, who is rather concerned about their rather long tail.

‘‘It’s an imperative that the top four-five batters hold their own as they have a particularly long tail. Quinton De Knock, who can be a gamechanger. will be possibly missing the final two Tests and that could be a big blow,’’ he said.

Cullinan’s final thoughts rested on the hope that the Test series should be completed. ‘‘Let’s pray we should see three completed matches. Cricket South Africa have gone out of their way to make the series happen, but I must admit that it’s not an easy time to be an international cricketer for the bubble life,’’ he added.