Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah averted each other’s gaze. Kohli turned towards the square-leg umpire and practised a forward defensive; Bumrah strode back to the top of his run-up. As if nothing had happened.
Seconds ago, Kohli had upper-punched than upper cut. Bumrah for a six over the point boundary. The ball was on the shorter side of the back-of-length band, just outside the off-stump. Kohli arched back, opened up his left-shoulder and punched him aerially.
Imagine if it were to happen in a competitive game, the footage would have acquired the value of pure gold.
The snatches from the rickety live streaming would still have gone viral. And those few thousands assembled to watch the game, well mostly Kohli and Bumrah, the shining beacons of this Team India, could brag about the day Kohli upper-cut Bumrah in a red-ball game. It might take long for this event to recur any time soon in red ball — the probability of this not recurring is likelier.
Later, post tea, Bumrah snared Kohli, a ball after he was punched behind point for a four in emphatic fashion. But their duel, titanic and eventful as it might sound, was not a potent, unputdownable stuff. It was humdrum, with Kohli blunting most balls with a brisk back-foot stride, or shouldering arms on length, and Bumrah testing his former’s captain’s patience rather than stroke-play.
There was no raging intensity. Even after the six — an upper-cut six no less — Bumrah’s response was un-hostile. He did not unleash the bouncer or the yorker, the classical responses of an insulted fast bowler. He diligently probed the fifth-stump channel, pinging the ball back-of-length.
Maybe, he knows the futility of trying to bounce Kohli out. Pace or bounce, short or short-of-length, seldom rattle him. His intact reflexes and judgment bestow him the time to decide the right response, keep the right shape and process the right stroke.
It’s fuller lengths that trouble him. In this game, it was not Bumrah or Roman Walker that tormented him the most, that beat him most often, but Abidine Sakande, of Burkina Faso-descent, more medium fast than fast medium. In plain-sight, he seems nothing more than a trundler, prone to lavishing batsmen with full-tosses and short-balls. But then, when he hit the full lengths, he extracted movement both ways, and beat Kohli’s outside edge several times in the first innings. He finally induced an edge, lulling Kohli into a drive, only for the umpire’s misjudgement that it was a bump ball. He barely bowled in the second innings to Kohli, but trouble came from one from Kohli’s own stable, Navdeep Saini, the reserve bowler.
Saini, his Test prospects bleak, was the most incisive bowler. He seamlessly alternated his lengths — he took out a defiant KS Bharat with a short ball, a scratchy Hanuma Vihari with a good-length ball and troubled Kohli with full balls.
Kohli, assertive from the start, looked to dismiss him through covers, only that the ball would move devilishly late into him, brushing his inside edge. Twice in successive balls, the ball eluded the stumps by the margin of a coat of paint. On another occasion, it held the line, as the ball just whistled past the outside edge of Kohli.
But Saini apart, he dealt all bowlers with a sense of authority that portends an imminent end to his century-drought. The signs in warm-up games are not so much definitive as they are indicative.
Nonetheless, Kohli seemed settling into the groove during his 67, sprinkled with five fours and a six, just as Vihari looked utterly lost, confused in judging lengths, uncertain in committing to either foot, and often ending up playing from the crease. Unlike in the first innings, wherein he perished playing an expansive drive, he bade time and survived testy spells. But still, he came nowhere close to locating his best form, and so unsure of the off-stump that it was inevitable that he nicked one to the keeper.
He was aghast with himself. So was Cheteshwar Pujara, who, after an untroubled 22, stepped out to left-arm spinner R Sai Kishore, was beaten in the flight and stumped. How he would have wished for a second hit, like Shreyas Iyer, who batted twice on Sunday for 62 runs. So did Ravindra Jadeja, but the only passage of play one would remember from the day, or the match so far, would be the Kolhi-Bumrah duel, even if not edge-of-the-seat stuff, a blockbuster.
📣 Join our Telegram channel (The Indian Express) for the latest news and updates