FOR A 7-8 minute period on Thursday morning, Virat Kohli could hardly lay bat on ball. Though he did shoulder arms to a couple rather confidently, deliveries were repeatedly flying past his bat or rushing him into awkward positions. It was the kind of working over, you almost never see him have to endure in recent times. On one occasion, Mohammad Siraj got one to land on a length, straighten and lift off, squaring up his captain and beating his outside-edge. The delivery even earned the Hyderabad pacer a clap of appreciation from Kohli. The Indian captain was also late on a few from throwdown-specialist Raghu with his trusted side-arm and one delivery from a muscular left-arm net pacer rose innocuously and sped past his stationary bat.
The unlikely and brief inquisition of his defensive technique was of course transpiring in the practice area of the Uppal Stadium, where the pitches have been spicily bouncy and the kinds that India reportedly have asked for during the Tests against the West Indians. And it’s historically been unwise to gauge a batsman’s form or mind-set by watching him in the nets. This is not even an attempt to do so. Kohli is after all coming of a glut of runs in challenging English conditions and another matter-of-fact century against the West Indies in Rajkot. Kohli wasn’t the only Indian batsman in the wars against Raghu & Co. Even KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane had to fend off a few uncomfortable deliveries.
Kohli did express his dissatisfaction with how his nets session was going, scything the air around with his hand once and soon walked off. But he perhaps, or in all likelihood, wouldn’t have completely minded being challenged in this fashion on the eve of the second Test. These were challenges similar to what he and the rest will likely confront, within two months, Down Under. And these are the challenges that they hardly encountered at Rajkot, or expect to encounter in Hyderabad, from the visitors.
If anything, the facile victory in the first Test has left the build-up to the second and final Test rather staid. To the extent that for many, it’s not a question of whether the West Indies will be beaten, it’s more to do with how soon the inevitable will happen. Some have even wondered if they taking the match into the fourth day would be an achievement enough for this beleaguered visiting side. It must be, however, said that their playing XI at Rajkot was considerably crippled with skipper Jason Holder and lead seamer Kemar Roach missing out for different reasons. Roach, who had flown back to attend to his grandmother’s funeral, is back. Holder though remains in slight doubt, and it’s likely the team management will take a call on his fitness on the morning of the match.
Roach was at his slippery best two days out from the Test, and his inclusion will significantly bolster the bowling attack. It’s unlikely that he’ll find the same assistance from the centre wicket that he did from those on the sidelines. But the Bajan pacer has been consistent alongside Shannon Gabriel, settling in as their premier pace pairing since last year.
But Roach’s return, or for that matter even Holder getting match-fit, is unlikely to make a difference to their batting woes—being bundled out twice within 100 overs. This has been their most settled Test batting line-up over the last couple of years with the likes of Kraigg Brathwaite, Kieran Powell, Shai Hope and Roston Chase having established—and re-established in some cases—themselves in the order. They could take solace from their famous comeback win at Leed’s last year. They’d been humbled similarly in the opening Test, a day-nighter at Edgbaston, beaten within three days by an innings and 209 runs. And they’d turned the tide in dramatic fashion to win at Headingley with Hope and Brathwaite leading the way in a famous run-chase. Chase agreed with the comparison and didn’t take too lightly to being asked about the inevitability of the defeat. “It is a similar feeling. Sometimes we have talks in the dressing room and we say that (we) need a bit of a punch to fight back. We probably had that nervous energy in the first game. The guys should be good and ready to go in the second,” the all-rounder said.
Kohli too tried his best to build-up expectations of the West Indies “bouncing back”, saying “they will come harder at us” on three separate occasions while answering a basic query of what he thought the response from the visitors would be in Hyderabad. He then summed it up perfectly saying, “At this stage, they don’t have any other option, apart from trying to make a comeback.” And in a way, he and his team will be hoping that they are tested, considering their next Test will be in Adelaide in less than two months.
Former West Indies captain and opener Daren Ganga had told this paper recently in an interview about how this series is not really adding any value to India’s status as the No.1 Test team or their preparation for an incredibly bigger challenge—at least in relation to this one—that lies ahead. And having received a debilitating “punch” in Rajkot, the Windies can hopefully manage a fight back, or suffer what at this point seems like an expected knockout.