The collective roar of more than twenty thousand people greeting a boundary or being hushed into silence at the fall of an Indian wicket is a rare sight at a Test match in India. Indore, home to India’s first cricket superstar Col C.K. Nayudu, was witness to a spectacle that followers of traditional cricket believed was history and not possible to ever happen again.
India’s 22nd Test venue recreated scenes long forgotten and only reserved for the shorter format of the game. The overflowing, bustling, raucous crowd lent the first day’s play a touch of unreal, forcing many to banish the thought that Test cricket is dead.
The contest on display, unlike what has happened throughout this three-match Test series, swung India’s way on the first day itself. New Zealand did try to overcome the setback of losing the toss with some spirited fight against some very heavy odds in the first half of the match but were swamped by Virat Kohli’s stupendous batting after that.
The crowd, as the day wore on, got to see what most cricket fans have raved about all over the world. And that is Kohli at his flowing best, busy playing strokes of exquisite timing, without a hint of being in any haste or being troubled by bouts of impatience. The inevitable outcome of this stroke-filled exhibition was Kohli’s 13th Test century. His partner in India’s dominance was Ajinkya Rahane. Though Rahane was not at his best, he was still good enough to push India into a zone from where they can now throttle New Zealand into submission.
The winning of the toss in India is as crucial as oxygen is for breathing. Kohli, for the third time in succession, won this battle, soaring India’s chances for a clean sweep in the series.
The wicket, almost bare and minus any cracks, was the best batting surface of the series, yet India’s top order self destructed.
Gautam Gambir, making a comeback at the age of 34, would not have got a better opportunity to score big. He has changed his stance — more open-chested than his earlier side-on — but that still did not help him from becoming an lbw victim to a Boult full-pitched delivery. Before he lost his wicket, Gambhir, with two pulled sixes and a smashing square cut, was in full flow, despite having seen Murali Vijay flick Jeetan Patel from the middle of his bat but into the midriff of the short-leg fielder. The ball juggled around a bit but luckily for Tom Latham did not spill on to the ground before he firmed his grip on it. Gambir, unmindful of this early loss, appeared heading for a big score before his old failing became the cause of his grief.
Despite its true nature, there was a bit of turn for the spinners in the wicket and Stentner had a solid looking Pujara playing the wrong line, only to see the ball turn just enough to hit his off stump.
India while reaching a score of 100 had lost three wickets and a crisis was brewing, despite the conditions favouring the batsmen.
The swagger, the confidence and the determination is the hallmark of Virat Kohli’s presence at the crease, regardless of whether he scores big or not.
Today nothing was to distract him. The wicket had no demons in it and the ball was coming nicely onto the bat. There was a bit of turn but not to the extent to force a batsman into long bouts of defense and self-doubt. He simply blossomed, drove on the off-side with a majesty of a striding tiger. His on-side play was impeccable, piercing the field with masterly ease. The short ball, that has put him on a spot very often, was dealt with utter disdain, pulling it with swift swivel of the bat and sending it racing to the fence.
If Kohli’s innings had all the ingredients that make him among the most dangerous batsmen of our times, his partner, Ajinkaye Rahane, was subdued and even a bit lucky to survive.
Among the barrage of short balls he faced, a couple of them struck his left arm before flying into the hands of the fielders. A miscued pull was misread by the fielder in the deep but these errors of judgment did not disturb his concentration. He is a gritty fighter and along with his skipper, the fourth wicket partnership flourished, forcing the New Zealanders into complete defense.