Ahead of the Test series, a slightly green strip was kept aside at the West Delhi Cricket Academy. The idea was to give its acclaimed ward, Virat Kohli, a chance to bat against the new, moving ball during the three days available to him at home. Success at No. 3 in ODIs had raised speculation he could be promoted to that slot and it was seen to it he entered the Tests aware where his off-stump was. Though he batted at five, the effort is paying off.
On Saturday, India’s top-order crumbled against the Kiwi pacemen, who bowled in the off-stump corridor with such regularity and swung the ball that Gautam Gambhir was beaten and Sachin Tendulkar , Virender Sehwag and Cheteshwar Pujara were pushed into playing false shots. At 80/4, Kohli had to gear up for another rescue effort, like the one he mounted in Hyderabad. This time, there was no solid Pujara but Suresh Raina, who was fighting to justify his inclusion.
The Kiwis were upbeat after raising a decent total and the wicket was also less benign. In short, it was a test of mettle of the young middle-order batsmen after they had faced questions following the departure of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. “When I walked in, Virat asked me to take things easy. I’ve had some good scores in one-day cricket, so I knew I was in form,” said Raina.
Falling back on the ODI methods was perhaps the best way to go for Raina. There was no show of nerves as he made the most of the width the Kiwi bowlers offered him initially. A loud roar greeted Tendulkar, and despite his 41-ball struggle for four runs before lunch, the fans gave another roar when he punched Doug Bracewell straight down to the fence. But that was it. If Trent Boult’s delivery in Hyderabad was a beauty, this one from Bracewell was innocuous, Tendulkar playing across and missing one that was angled in. Countless TV replays were shown and silence descended on the ground till Raina lifted the mood.
Kohli’s coach Raj Kumar Sharma says he is fitter for Tests than ODIs because of the long hours he likes to bat. Just 10 Tests old, Kohli was initially cautious.
A lot of this game is played in the mind, and Kohli underlined his awareness. “Virat decided we shouldn’t go all out against Jeetan Patel, otherwise they would take him out of the attack,” Raina said. It’s not something Patel will be happy to hear but it shows how much Kohli thinks about situations.
Having showed discretion during his 99-run partnership with Raina, Kohli opened up, slotting in on-drives with more frequency once Dhoni arrived. The two have already put on more than hundred runs together and Kohli, on a hot scoring streak, can look forward to his second century in three Tests.