Rishabh Pant’s back-to-the-wall and power-packed rearguard century on Friday seems to have helped avert a chastisement of Indian top-order batting that has looked off-colour so far this year.

India have been winning Test matches, including a historic second series in Australia. But a major share of the credit for their victories has to go to either their bowlers, especially on wickets that have been spin-friendly or to batting performances from middle to lower-order, like it happened on Friday. Pant’s 101 and Washington Sundar’s unbeaten 60 helped them turn the game on its head.

Barring Rohit Sharma, who averages over 47, and Cheteshwar Pujara, who has an average of 34 thanks largely to his three half-centuries in Australia, none of the other three -– skipper Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and youngster Shubman Gill — is averaging even 30 this year in which India are playing their sixth Test.

Kohli, who is into his fourth Test this year, averages 28.66 while his deputy Rahane averages just 19.9 in 2021. Young opener Gill, who began well by aggregating 80 in the two innings on his Test debut in Melbourne in December, averages 29.8 in six Test matches this year.

Even last year, when Test cricket was restricted due Covid-19 and India played just four Tests, their performances weren’t great. Kohli averaged just over 19, Rahane a shade better than 38 although he scored a match-winning century in Melbourne. Pujara averaged just above 20.

It is only Sharma — he didn’t play last year — who has had a good start to this year scoring the only century coming from the top five of Indian batting. He has aggregated 474 with one century and two fifties.

Although it looks likely India would win the fourth Test, too, Indian top-order batsmen’s poor performances is not a great start ahead of a summer where Kohli’s men play the World Test Championship final possibly, and the five-Test series against England.

Those Tests though are still a long way away and it is unlikely they will be played on wickets that are rank turners from the start and are as difficult to bat on.

But there will be some movement and it was quite evident from Friday’s outing that Indian batsmen do get bothered by a hint of movement.

India opener Rohit Sharma admitted that movement from both Ben Stokes and James Anderson early on troubled the Indian batsmen a bit and things got a bit easy only as the day progressed.

“There was help for the bowlers and seamers. We know that early on there is lot of moisture on the pitch and we need to get through those 40-45 minutes at the start. We needed to get partnerships because their total was not big. Unfortunately, we lost a few wickets,” said Sharma who was the fifth man dismissed with the team score on 121.

Sharma batted well as he tried to see off the early, difficult phase but he was dismissed off a delivery that swung back in sharply.

Kohli edged one behind off Stokes and Rahane also edged one, to slips, with Anderson moving the ball away. The two dismissals point to some shakiness, though they were good deliveries.

“My plan was to leave everything outside off-stump since it was moving also. This is what we were talking with all the batsmen. I told Pujara that since the ball is seaming around we have to play the initial half to 1 hour carefully. We discussed the pitch was giving some assistance,” Sharma added.

While Sharma and Pujara are good at knowing their off-stump, the India No.3 fell to his own weakness –- bringing pad ahead of bat to a left-arm spin bowler. It exposed both Kohli and Rahane early and they edged deliveries behind.

–IANS

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