The pitch, by the colour of it, looked like a Rajkot belter. Midway into the New Zealand innings, as the ball started to grip a little, Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin bowled and teased the Kiwis in tandem. Later, when Shikhar Dhawan edged a Trent Boult outswinger, the ball didn’t carry to the second slip. A pretty decent turnout, mostly of Indian expats, raised the roof at The Oval, when Virat Kohli came to bat. It was India’s first warm-up fixture in the lead-up to the Champions Trophy, but apart from the cooler climes of south London and a bit of extra bounce on the surface, it felt like a home away from home. The result was to their liking as well as the defending champions defeated New Zealand by 45 runs on the Duckworth-Lewis method after rain had stopped India’s chase of a meagre 190 at 129 for three in the 26th over.
The two warm-up games – Bangladesh are next on Tuesday – are important from India’s context before the tournament proper, especially after an eight-month-long home season including the IPL. The match against New Zealand on Sunday was an opportunity to get a feel of the early summer English conditions. Maybe, it can be argued, India would have liked to be stretched a little more by their opponents.
But New Zealand, in the face of a hostile Indian new-ball bowling, collapsed after winning the toss. The New Zealand total, paltry it might be, but the Indian top order still had enough scope to settle into a rhythm. Ajinkya Rahane was iffy and got out to a poor shot. But both Shikhar Dhawan and, importantly, captain Kohli spent quality time at the crease and accumulated confidence-boosting runs.
Dhawan had finished with an average of 90.75 in the 2013 Champions Trophy and was adjudged Player of the Tournament. But that’s water under the Tower Bridge and the left-hander’s position of late has become vulnerable. Today he had a lucky escape upfront, when Neil Broom dropped a straightforward chance off Boult. Dhawan, however, grew in confidence as his innings progressed. A cut against Boult was special, as he jumped to get on top of the bounce and flicked his wrists to create the gap. Forty runs off 59 balls including five fours was a decent opening act.
Kohli had an average IPL by his lofty standards. But his batting here was reassuring. A lovely straight drive off pacer Adam Milne provided early signs of a good purchase from this practice match. Tim Southee tried to target him outside off, hoping to exploit and old Kohli vulnerability in England, but the India captain walked across the stumps to cover the movement and caressed the away-goer past mid-off for a four. The New Zealand bowler responded with a slower delivery and Kohli slapped it to the point fence. Technically it was a catch, but such was the force behind the shot that Jimmy Neesham barely had time to react. Kohli then came down the track to pull a back-of-a-length delivery from Southee to the deep square leg boundary.
In full control
Dhawan and a scratchy Dinesh Karthik fell in quick succession. By then, however, Kohli was in full control, unleashing some glorious drives. One of those, a couple, took him to his half-century. Only once he played a little too far away from his body and spooned a catch at short cover, put down by Mitchell Santner. Otherwise, the skipper was tight, unlike the 2014 series in England, when he had returned with 134 runs from five Tests.
MS Dhoni survived a confident shout for leg before against Colin de Grandhomme, but to his credit, he stood a few feet outside his crease, creating enough doubt in the umpire’s mind about the height. Then, de Grandhomme palmed one over the rope at sweeper cover to make a hash of the trap Williamson had set for the former India captain. When a steady drizzle became heavier, India 45 runs ahead on D/L.
Earlier, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar took three wickets apiece, but from India’s point of view the real positive was the way Jadeja and Ashwin bowled. The spinners had been held back till the 19th over, but when they came they found their groove straightaway. Jadeja had only five wickets in 12 IPL matches this term. But back on national duty, he cleaned up a well-set Luke Ronchi with a brilliant arm ball. The left-arm spinner then foxed de Grandhomme by dragging his length back and spinning it past the bat. Dhoni whipped the bails off in a flash.
Ashwin, back from his sports hernia injury lay-off, experimented with his leg-breaks and carrom ball. Santner’s scalp, however, was a classic off-spinner’s dismissal, when he deceived the batsman in flight. Collectively, Ashwin and Jadeja conceded 40 runs in 10 overs – Jadeja 2/8 in four overs – and accounted for three wickets.
As for the pacers, Kumar bowled the English length, Jasprit Bumrah too was pretty straight and economical, but Shami and Hardik Pandya were a couple of feet short. To be fair to them, it wasn’t easy to make the necessary adjustments right from the outset after an unusually long home season. New Zealand batsmen, save Ronchi and Neesham, made the bowlers’ job easier by playing some poor shots. India played this game with top intensity to overwhelm the opposition.
Brief scores: New Zealand 189 all out in 38.4 overs (Ronchi 66 in 63 balls, Neesham 46 in 47 balls; Bhuvneshwar 3/28 in 6.4 overs, Shami 3/47 in 8 overs) lost to India 129/3 in 26 overs (Kohli 52 in 55 balls, Dhawan 40 in 59 balls) by 45 runs (according to Duckworth/Lewis method)