Just before the second rain break during the warm-up game between Leicestershire and Indians, Virat Kohli hooked Prasidh Krishna into the stands. Kohli hooks rarely, but this one was emphatic, a statement that he has shed the inhibitions and was looking to impose himself on the bowlers. An over earlier, he had regally punched Abidine Sakande through extra cover and struck an imperious high-elbowed pose in his follow-through.
The stage and every other prop seemed set for Kohli. He had soaked the early perils, resisted the cover drive till the 47th ball, left balls judiciously outside the off-stump, paid homage to the blustery conditions where the ball at times swung lavishly, conceded the first hour to the bowlers, even if, barring Jasprit Bumrah and Prasidh Krishna, they turned out for a club in the second English tier and without a reputation preceding them. He rode his luck too, as the umpire deemed that an edge to second slip was a bump ball. Now, though, was the time to shine brightly and gain morale and momentum into the Edgbaston Test.
Except that, in England, one is never settled at the crease, never in utter control of the conditions or in command over the bowlers. The scorecard reflects it — three of India’s top four got starts, but the highest was Kohli’s 33. In the end, it took KS Bharat’s unbeaten 70 to take Indians to 246/8 before rain prematurely ended the day’s proceedings.
A burst of rain would come from nowhere, an odd ball would suddenly swing like a drunk cobra, an unassuming bowler would transform into a cold-eyed sniper. India’s destroyer was a disarming 21-year-old Welshman still waiting for his first-class debut. But given the verve Roman Walker demonstrated, it would not be too long before he is handed the cap.
Play set to resume in Leicester!
50-run partnership comes up between Virat Kohli and KS Bharat.
Watch it live here – pic.twitter.com/G3H1lOrpLt
— BCCI (@BCCI) June 23, 2022
The first outing in England is all about internalising these challenges — not only quelling the swinging Dukes ball and making other technical adjustments, but also about getting attuned to the peculiar mental challenges that England poses. The fickle weather, the rain, as a consequence the start-stop nature of the game, cold winds and long days, all these could get into the head of batsmen used to sunshine and heat.
But Kohli, with his wealth of experience and with three Test Test tours to these shores behind him, sniffs and snuffs out those dangers. Yet, upon resumption, he looked jumpy and restless. And off the ninth ball he faced, he missed a flick and was adjudged LBW. Whether the ball, after angling in and then seaming away, would have trimmed the off-stump was doubtful, but Kohli had played all over the ball, missing a routine stroke of his. So in the space of nine balls, Kohli was made to look banal from the sublime. This is what England can do to batsmen — there is no cruise even if the sea seems calm.
Some of his colleagues too would agree. Rohit Sharma thought he had gauged the pace and bounce of the surface —more tennis-ball than trampoline bounce — yet was twice hurried into the pull, a productive stroke of his. The second instance turned out to be fatal, ending his 47-ball stay that yielded 25 runs, most accrued with a degree of fortune, barring a brace of back-foot punches.
In contrast, Shubman Gill drove, cut and defended gorgeously, racing to 21 off 28 balls before a familiar error induced an edge. He reached out to defend a ball in the fifth-sixth stump trajectory and edged behind. There was enough room to cut, and he would have likely cut the ball, had he not been over-conscious of the ball moving late, as it happens in England. Hanuma Vihari tried to jail-break with an uncharacteristically expansive drive; Shreyas Iyer did not account for the late outswing as looked to drive a full ball, after looking resolute in defence. A peach of a ball, from Walker, devoured Ravindra Jadeja. The left-hander’s nightmare, the ball that ducks back in from over the stumps.
But then, after 50 overs, the Dukes ball begins to lose its fangs — though the dry outfield could conspire reverse swing. However, none of Leicestershire’s seamers could harness it, as Bharat began to chop and hack boundaries with some help from heave-happy Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami, who would rather be content bowling under the gloomy skies than throwing their bat around.
There, though, are challenges, for bowlers too. The prodigious slope at Grace Road would take some getting used to, as Bumrah and Prasidh discovered. Up the slope, from the Pavilion End, Bumrah struggled with the direction of his nip-backers, which often landed on middle-stump and whistled past both the out-stretched hands of the wicketkeeper down the legside. But from the Bennett End, those same deliveries stung. One of them had Sharma clutching his groin in pain.
Prasidh’s first spell from the Bennett End was hostile. Purchasing sharp lift, he would often move the ball away or hold its line. On more than one occasion, he had Sharma groping outside the off-stump. But from the Pavilion End, he struggled to control his swing, and there was an odd instance wherein the ball swung so wildly that it went straight to first slip.
It was a challenging day for the wicketkeepers too. Rishabh Pant, who kept wickets in the first session, was made to stretch on both sides, as the ball swung late and generously. To his credit, he clasped more than he missed, giving just four of the 12 byes Leicestershire conceded. In all, it was as first a day of an England tour as it could get.