Johannesburg: India coach Rahul Dravid believes a run of big scores from Virat Kohli is just around the corner and praised the work ethic and leadership of his captain ahead of the second Test against South Africa at The Wanderers on Monday.
India wrapped up a 113-run victory on Thursday in the first game of the three-match series at Centurion Park, where Kohli continued his run of low scores that has seen him unable to profit from good starts to his innings.
Dravid admitted there had been a lot of “noise” around Kohli in the last few weeks after he was axed as captain of the One Day International side, causing some controversy back home.
But he said there were no concerns about his form with the bat as India seek a first-ever Test series win in South Africa.
“Virat has been phenomenal over the last 20 days we have been here, the way he has trained and connected with the group,” Dravid told reporters on Sunday.
“I could not speak more highly about him and the way he has committed to his own preparation and his own practice. On and off the field he has been a fantastic leader.
“We were in a very good space leading into the first Test and a lot of that was led by Virat. It is a pleasure to work with someone like him. He batted well but cannot convert those starts.”
Dravid believes the runs will come for Kohli, who has not scored a Test century in more than two years.
He has managed 652 runs in his last 14 Tests at an average of 26.08, almost half his career average of 50.34.
“I really feel there is going to be a big run of scores coming in from him,” Dravid said. “It might not happen in the next game, though I hope it does, but it will click in place.
“He has been a credit to himself and Indian cricket in the last few weeks.”
Kohli has every reason to be confident his team can seal an historic Test series win in South Africa. “It’s a ground we all loving playing on and we are looking forward to it,” said Kohli after India won the first Test at Centurion by 113 runs on Thursday.
The numbers bear out Kohli’s optimism.
India have yet to be beaten in a Test match at South Africa’s premier cricket stadium and have a record of two wins and three draws since their first tour of South Africa in 1992/93.
Despite the Wanderers being renowned as a ground favouring fast bowlers — which should have put India at a disadvantage on some of their earlier tours, before the emergence of their potent current pace bowling attack — India have performed consistently well in Johannesburg.
The ground holds particularly happy memories for some of the Indian touring party.
New coach Dravid made his first Test century in a drawn match in 1996/97 and ten years later captained India to their first Test win in South Africa.
Kohli gave a batting masterclass when he made 119 and 96 in a high-scoring draw in 2013/14 to enable India to set the hosts a seemingly impossible target of 458 runs to win.
In that match, though, South Africa came close to beating India for the only time in Johannesburg, making 450 for eight in a dramatic draw.
Kohli then led India to victory on a sub-standard pitch four seasons ago, a win he has highlighted as a “milestone” which gave the side the belief to follow up with a series win in Australia last January.
They also lead England 2-1 with the final Test — called off last year due to Covid in the Indian camp — to be played later in 2022.
Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane all made crucial runs on a pitch, which was halted at one stage because conditions were regarded as dangerous, while Mohammed Shami, one of the heroes of the win in Centurion, took five for 28 in the second innings.
India were superior in all departments at Centurion, although South Africa’s fast bowlers came back strongly after a poor first day.
The home side’s batting was inadequate against a well-disciplined Indian bowling attack.
The middle order is vulnerable in the absence of the now-retired Quinton de Kock, while the opening batsmen, captain Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram, have failed to stay together beyond the second over of an innings in South Africa’s last three Tests.
The scale of the defeat in the first Test has presented the home camp with several headaches.
Elgar hinted at a change in the batting order and there are several permutations, which are likely to be discussed.
Kyle Verreynne is expected to be de Kock’s successor as a wicketkeeper-batsman but South Africa will debate whether to add another specialist batsman in place of all-rounder Wiaan Mulder.
As is often the case at the Wanderers, South Africa could consider picking an all-pace attack, with left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj having only played in two of a possible six Tests at the ground, in one of which — against Sri Lanka last season — he was not called on to bowl.
India, meanwhile, have the luxury of considering whether to tamper with a winning team.
South Africa (from): Dean Elgar (capt), Aiden Markram, Sarel Erwee, Keegan Petersen, Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, Kyle Verreynne (wkt), Ryan Rickelton, Wiaan Mulder, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier, Lungi Ngidi, Glenton Stuurman.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wkt), Ravichandran Ashwin, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj.
Umpires: Marais Erasmus, Allahuddien Paleker (both RSA).
TV umpire: Adrian Holdstock (RSA).
Match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM).