1st Test, Adelaide: India’s day ruined by a run-out
It is often said that Test cricket finds strange ways to balance the highs and lows over a long-enough career. On a later day, when this series is but a distant memory and India’s tour of Australia in 2020-21 is recalled in records and numbers, Virat Kohli might just grudgingly admit that his career has seen those balance scales at work at the Adelaide Oval itself.
Within the space of seconds on Thursday, the first day of the opening Test in Adelaide, Kohli went from being quietly confident of reaching his fourth Test hundred in the city to having it all snatched away in a rare and bitter fashion, down to only the second run-out of his Test career spanning 146 innings and nine-and-a-half years. Where did the first run-out occur? In Adelaide, of course, in the innings after recording his maiden Test hundred on the same ground.
Run that never was
The groundwork had been laid and the hard yards had been put in by the 77th over, the over of Kohli’s dismissal which, eventually as is often the case, swung the momentum Australia’s way. Batting on 74, Kohli had – first with Cheteshwar Pujara and then with Ajinkya Rahane –survived the early pink ball scares in the first session on Thursday, rebuilt India’s innings in the second and was awaiting the day’s final challenge of the second new ball in the third when he was called for a run that never was.
Off the last ball of a Nathan Lyon over, Rahane, batting with remarkable aggression on 41, drove the ball straight to the mid-off fielder and took off to steal a 42nd run. Kohli committed to the single, only to be sent back by his partner. The captain was well short, the vice-captain held up a palm in sincere apology and was not quite the same batsman again. Rahane added just one more run over the next three overs and was dismissed in the first over of the second new ball, trapped leg-before by Mitchell Starc.
And just like that, India had lost of Kohli, Rahane and Hanuma Vihari in the space of 18 runs, looking poised for better things just a few moments back at 188/3. “We were in a good position but after losing Kohli and Rahane, they have a little bit of an advantage,” Pujara would later concede at the press conference.
When stumps were drawn at 233/6, India’s overnight batsmen were Wriddhiman Saha and R Ashwin. Both face the unenviable task of finding runs against a ball with plenty of lacquer still left on it on Day Two – something even the new-ball specialists in India’s openers couldn’t do on the gnarly opening day of the series.
Rahane’s stint with the second new ball lasted four balls, two more than Shaw’s with the first – bowled by Starc off the second ball of the day. In walked Pujara, the hero of India’s tour Down Under in 2018-19, and he looked just as determined to spend time at the crease as he was two years ago. It wasn’t easy – Pujara’s bat sprayed edges against the fast bowlers initially and then he kept the close-in fielders busy while tackling Lyon. But in between, especially during his time at the crease with Kohli for a partner, it was Test match batting at its finest.
The action picked up in second session, well after Pujara and Kohli had gritted their way through the first, seeing India through to the dinner break at 41/2 after 25 overs. It was the 32nd over, the first by Lyon, when Pujara even began thinking of runs. He used his feet and cut him for two past gully and then danced down the wicket again and drove him for three runs, which was stopped on the cover boundary – the closest he got to the ropes in an innings that had already spanned 109 balls.
Kohli found the going easier. Off the very first ball of Lyon’s following over, Kohli clubbed him over his head for a boundary, taking the charge to the man who has dismissed him most often in Test cricket (7). Lyon would’ve had Kohli’s number an eighth time had captain and wicketkeeper Tim Paine referred a caught behind appeal. Paine didn’t, and Kohli – then on 16 – got away.
Almost in celebration in the next over, Kohli whipped a full length ball from Starc to the midwicket boundary. And thus a game of cat and mouse began between them --- Starc probing at an off-stump line that Kohli didn’t fall for but smacking the India captain on the finger in the 43rd over. When the following ball was short too, Kohli got inside the line and pulled it with authority for another boundary.
By the time the 48th over arrived, Pujara hadn’t scored a boundary in 147 balls. But in the space of the next two, bowled by Lyon, he would strike the Adelaide hoardings twice, catching up with Kohli in the 40s. But shortly before tea, Lyon deceived Pujara into squirting one more edge to leg slip, this chance snapped up by a diving Marnus Labuschagne. He had scored an invaluable 43, eating up 160 balls, and India took tea at 107/3.
The final session is the most dangerous in day-night cricket. This is when day truly becomes night and the floodlights help the ball zing this way and that. Kohli and new-man Rahane were fearless right through the session, first by hitting Lyon out of the attack by the 62nd over with a flurry of fours and then by dealing with the wrath of the pacers. Josh Hazlewood beat Kohli all ends up in the 68th over with a ball that was fast reversing, but Kohli was quick to realign and pull the next ball for four.
Similarly, Pat Cummins twice induced an edge from Rahane’s blade in the 74th over, before Rahane got behind the line of a Cummins bouncer and smacked it for six over deep square-leg. Rahane and Kohli’s confidence was on the rise, as was India’s rapidly ballooning score. Until one moment of misunderstanding brought it all to a sudden halt.