“KOHLI KILLED us softly is the nicest way of describing it.” It wasn’t an admission you would generally expect from an opposition coach on a hot, unforgiving day where his team has pretty much been beaten to the ground.
For, there can be nothing ‘soft’ about chasing the ball around for nearly two full days in the subcontinent with the home team piling on over 500 runs. But with that candid remark, New Zealand coach Mike Hesson had pretty much summed up the manner in which Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane had batted his team into submission. Or at least, how it felt being at the receiving end of the run glut at the Holkar Stadium on Sunday.
First, let’s look at the staggering numbers that the two Indian batsmen achieved recorded over the first two days of Indore’s maiden Test. Their partnership of 365 was the highest Indian stand for the fourth wicket and the fifth-highest for any wicket in the country’s Test history.
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Kohli went on to score his second double-ton in three months while Rahane agonizingly fell 12 runs short of his maiden 200. It was only the second time that No.4 and No.5 had both scored a 150+ score — to put that into perspective just think of the plethora of batting moguls that have batted in those positions for India over the years. And by the end of Day Two, India had more or less tightened the noose on the hapless Kiwis after finally declaring their first innings at 557/5 with Rohit Sharma also completing a half-century.
But what stood out was the way in which Kohli and Rahane went about tying the knot methodically, ruthlessly and painfully — if you were the opposition that is — despite holding the visitors by the scruff of the neck throughout the day. The control and lack of fuss with which they went about accumulating the mammoth partnership has now put India well on their way to claiming a whitewash.
For the record, their stand lasted 112 overs, or 672 balls, and over 460 minutes. It’s not they you don’t expect batsmen of the modern era to forge partnerships of such epic proportions. But especially when it’s the first innings of a home Test with the opposition on the mat, it’s safe to assume that these runs will be amassed at a tempo more in tune with the times cricket thrives in.
Rahane and Kohli in fact spent more time at the crease together than what VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid had in Kolkata during their historic 376-run stand in 2001 against the Aussies. This despite India’s contemporary batting stalwarts having fallen 11 runs short of matching that record. In fact, of the top-8 highest partnerships of all time for India, only Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy leased the pitch for longer — 472 minutes is the time it took Harry Cave’s New Zealand to separate them — than Rahane and Kohli during their erstwhile world record opening stand of 413 in 1956.
Laxman and Dravid faced 625 balls together and occupied the crease for 446 minutes. It’s likely that the first images that come to mind from that epochal Test are Laxman opening up his stance and whipping Shane Warne across the turn to the mid-wicket fence in a manner that would have made an English public school teacher proud.
If that was a show of complete domination, what these two put on here was more an exhibition of supreme control over the proceedings and the opponents.
Ideally, having seen him show extreme restraint on the opening day in order to seize the initiative, you would expect Kohli to have unleashed himself and put forth a boundary fest.
But the stats prove otherwise. He only struck 20 fours — one of them a paddle reverse-sweep — overall in his 211 and his percentage of runs scored in boundaries was just 37.91. That was the lowest percentage among all double-centuries that Indian batsmen have scored since 1990. Instead, the highlight of his innings was the 117 singles and the 7 twos that he ran during his lengthy stay at the crease, out of which 105 came while he combined with Rahane.
Yes, the Kiwis didn’t let up to their credit. There weren’t too many loose deliveries on offer. And they never sat back and let the Indians have it easy. There were several plans employed — the short ball barrage to Rahane, the wide temptress deliveries to Kohli and the spinners bowling with in-and-out fields. But what Kohli and Rahane did was take stock of all the plans and dismissed them one at a time.
Only on three occasions before he reached his 200 did Kohli go for more than three balls without scoring a run on Day Two. There was always a push to the sweeper or a gentle flick to deep backward square for a single.
Or he would stretch his front-foot out and pat a length delivery from the spinners to the far reaches of the straight field and amble across. It was a testament to his peak fitness that it wasn’t until a ball before he was dismissed — and that too because it came right after the tea-break — that Kohli showed any signs of distress as he fought off cramps in his hamstring after playing a sweep off Jeetan Patel.
At the other end, Rahane was showing off his own physical aptitude. Unlike Kohli, he was slightly more brutal in his ways. He would reveal later that they two had planned to attack the spinners so that the fast bowlers are brought up under the hot sun to open up more opportunities of scoring. And there were no signs of fatigue as he kept charging down the crease and succeeded in smashing four sixes off them.
Rahane is the perfect rebuttal to the theory that batsmen in the modern era are susceptible to most of the time-tested challenges that the longest format provides. That while they might have expanded the scoring range beyond previously-imagined horizons; they weren’t on par with their predecessors when it came to having a mastery over their temperament.
Rahane’s already proven on enough occasions that he’s India’s most complete batsmen when it comes to succeeding in all formats and across all conditions. Here, he wasn’t always in control but showed an impressive mix of restraint and bravado in dealing with Matt Henry’s bouncer barrage in particular. They scored at 3.09 per over while they looked to strengthen their position on the first day. They upped the ante, though not radically, and scored at a run-rate of 3.41 on Sunday. Remarkably, though, the Kiwis could bowl only two maidens while the two were at the crease before Kohli was dismissed. And the first of those came only in the 32nd over of the day. It was just an indicator of how systematically they wore down New Zealand.
But to say that the visitors have been left for dead would be rather presumptuous. With three days to go, the road ahead is straightforward for the Kiwis. If they somehow manage to extend their first innings to as late as possible on the fourth day, and thereby save the follow-on a draw still seems within their grasp.
Like Hesson said, the blueprint is out there thanks to Kohli and Rahane. It only remains to be seen whether Williamson & Co can actually take a leaf out of it to make sure that they don’t end up going down ‘softly’.