MUMBAI, Oct.9: During India’s pre-match training session on Friday, after facing throwdowns from batting coach Sanjay Bangar, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane were involved in a long chat at the Holkar Stadium.
On Saturday, the captain and vice-captain spent even more time together, where it mattered the most. The two most vital cogs in the team’s batting wheel gelled together to make it a memorable maiden day of Test cricket in Indore.
Kohli and Rahane stitched together an unbeaten 167-run stand to help India end the opening day of the last Test against New Zealand at 267 for three and take command on yet another surface that turned out to be far from being a batsmen’s paradise. While Kohli ended the century-drought for the series with his 13th in India’s white flannels, Rahane notched up his second fifty of the series and is looking good to join Kohli in the three-digit club.
Both the batsmen displayed contrasting styles of batsmanship since coming together early in the afternoon session, when Mitchell Santner got one to turn sharply and knock back Cheteshwar Pujara’s off stump. Kohli’s knock was an example of percentage cricket, with minimal risks and the ability to rotate strike at will. He drove through covers with panache whenever the five-pronged Kiwi attack pitched it full, but he restrained from playing away from the body. The two of his most memorable strokes of the day was a straight drive off Jeetan Patel and a whip off Santner — on the backfoot and against the spin — through mid-wicket.
Barring these two strokes, the highlight of Kohli’s innings was his precision while leaving balls outside the off stump and picking singles at will. The fact that 57 of his 103 runs on the opening came through singles underlined his approach. It was apt that he reached the milestone with a quick single after tapping the second new ball in front of James Neesham at point. That was also the only point he looked tentative at for a moment, till the third umpire confirmed he had completed the run before Neesham disturbed the wickets at the non-striker’s end with a direct hit, before acknowledging the support staff for the throwdowns that have been hurled at him.
Rahane, on the other hand, appeared to be much more positive — and scratchy, for a change — than his leader. The Kiwi pacers — with Neil Wagner making way for all-rounder James Neesham — pounded him with short balls on a track that appeared hard in the middle but softer closer to the crease at either ends. And the Mumbai batsman appeared to be in a spot of bother. He miscued a pull off Trent Boult on 7, but the ball landed just short of Matt Henry, who was charging in from deep square leg. This was soon after Henry’s appeal of a catch was turned down when Rahane saw a short one banging into his elbow guard before lobbing into the slip cordon.
Even in the last session, the Kiwi pacers persisted the short bowling plan, with Henry banging it short around the wicket with a leg-slip in place. But Rahane struck it out and didn’t dither from playing strokes. The fact that he has grown so much in confidence reflected in the shot when he reached fifty, charging down off Santner before wafting the left-arm spinner against the spin into the cow corner for a six. That wasn’t the only six of the day. Gautam Gambhir, marking a return to the Test XI after more than two years, pulled Boult into the stands in the fifth over of the day.
However, once the Kiwi pacers returned for a second burst — after a quick spell by spinners starting as early as the fifth over, with Jeetan Patel getting rid of M. Vijay, thanks to a sharp catch by Tom Latham at square leg — they bowled fuller to the left-hander. That stifled Gambhir before he was trapped in front of the wickets by Boult.
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