ON HIS first return visit to his theatre of dreams, Kedar Jadhav’s batting stint lasted only 10 minutes. And there was no fanfare involved. The hometown hero quietly faced close to 30 throwdowns from fielding coach R Sridhar in the far net before picking up his fatigue-green cricket backpack and sauntering off inconspicuously.
Probably it had to do with the fact that Jadhav was back at the MCA Stadium less than two days after his career-defining knock. He wasn’t alone though. The entire Indian team was in attendance on Tuesday. Ideally, they would have been in Cuttack — but rooms were overbooked because of the wedding season — the venue for the second ODI, in front of a bevy of media presence and dealing with an anticipatory buzz in the air. But here they were still in Pune, going through their paces away from the glare, at a venue where they orchestrated one of the more memorable run-chases in ODI history.
While Jadhav seemed content with just knocking few balls around, the rest of his teammates preferred to spend their time either ironing out blemishes – Shikhar Dhawan and Yuvraj Singh for example -or working on their strengths like Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni. Dhawan was the most active member of the contingent.
Coach Anil Kumble had decided to turn the centre-wicket, which witnessed India’s great win into the fast-bowling net, and the left-handed opener was first in to face Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar along with a few well-built net bowlers.
It was only Kumar who seemed to have the edge over him as he looked at ease against the rest. He even flicked one leg-side delivery into the parking-lot behind the East Stand. He then switched places with opening partner KL Rahul to face the spinners. Dhawan somehow didn’t seem to have had enough even once he was done with close to 30 minutes of batting. He then put his gloves on and got a net bowler to toss a few balls underarm and overarm on the periphery of the nets. That was followed by an intense throwdown session with Sridhar.
The two had plenty of conversations, which looked to focus around getting Dhawan’s head into a neutral position right above his right shoulder and his body almost alongside the ball at the point of delivery. Sridhar even on occasions stopped short of releasing the ball to see whether Dhawan was getting into the right alignment.
He did seem pleased by the end of their session but Dhawan did shadow-practice his set-up a few more times before walking off. After a failure here, Dhawan only has two innings left in his series to cement his spot as the second opener behind Rohit Sharma for the Champions Trophy after all. Rahul, who’s competing with Dhawan for that same spot, also had a few additional stints in the nets, including one facing Sridhar.
Yadav and Kumar seemed to be having their own audition meanwhile. Yadav, India’s highest wicket-taker in this format over the last two years, was expensive and erratic on Sunday. Even here it was Kumar who looked the more incisive of the two with Yadav struggling to not stray down the pads regularly.
Yuvraj Singh didn’t have a great comeback match either. And while the rest were busy bowling or batting in the nets, he chose to take a few high catches. He held on to most but did grunt and cuss himself after dropping a couple. There were few grunts of self-critique from him even while batting.
There were a few flowing drives of vintage value. But he was rushed by quite a few short of length deliveries, mostly from Jasprit Bumrah. And he let out a loud “ehhhh” after mis-timing an uppish drive that would have gotten him caught at cover. He then faced an inevitable barrage of bouncers from throwdown specialist Raghu.
Bumrah was easily the quickest of the pacers, and rattled quite a few of his colleagues. Captain Virat Kohli even tried to fire up his tearaway by intentionally cheering for Manish Pandey even though the bouncer had smashed into his gloves while he took evasive action. Bumrah was understandably bemused at his captain’s reaction and argued vehemently that it was he who got the better of the exchange, which led to laughter all around.
Kohli was the energizer bunny of the practice session. He spent half-hour knocking balls while facing Raghu and Sridhar. He got both to bowl short deliveries at him-the left-handed Sridhar from around the wicket-and kept practicing the pull shot. Not that this necessarily had anything to do with it, but incidentally Jake Ball had spoken about England’s plan of using the short ball to unsettle the Indian captain a bit earlier. Once done with his stint, he sat around holding court. On one occasion he shouted, “catch hai yaar” to one of the local boys after he snared a steepler near the boundary. And he let out a loud “kya baat hai” when Yadav managed to hit one of the seamers nearly into the second tier of the grand-stand.
He also handed Pandey one of his own bats to check out, having seen that Pandey wasn’t getting enough distance with some of his big shots despite seemingly connecting with the middle of his bat.
Kohli had a poignant chat with Jadeja as the all-rounder stepped out of the spinners’ net, having swung wildly at a few balls. Jadeja had thrown his wicket away to an injudicious heave on Sunday when India least could afford a wicket. Kohli had good reason to probably ask Jadeja to buckle down a tad with bat in hand.
Jadeja’s departure left Ashwin to come and win the match with a six. And here on Tuesday, after having indulged in various battles with ball in hand, with Dhoni in particular, he was involved in a friendly game of one-upmanship against Hardik Pandya when it was the off-spinner’s turn to bat.
Pandya had him caught in the deep, figuratively once, but then it was Ashwin who had the last laugh, connecting with a few meaty blows. He then spent a few minutes, discussing his trigger position with Dhoni. The former India captain was at his brutal best against the spinners and seemed in great touch even while facing the pacers. He spent the rest of the time in a lengthy chat with coach Kumble.
Even the reserves made the most of their time out there. Pandey struck the ball harder and farther than anyone on show. Rahane consciously seem to avoid facing Raghu. Perhaps he hasn’t gotten over the broken finger that he received courtesy India’s throwdown specialist, who’s known to be quite the feisty proposition.
India don’t reach Cuttack till late afternoon on Wednesday, the eve of the second ODI. And it remains to be seen whether they’ll get a decent training session in before they look to seal the series. On the basis of the intensity of their three-hour outing on Tuesday in Pune, Kohli & Co look prepared nevertheless.