To anyone who follows a Test team, the first morning of an overseas Test series is one of the most exciting times. Will we win the toss? Will that player be in or out? What kind of conditions are going to be there? Us 70/4 at lunch? Them 100/0?
Trepidation and excitement jostle with each other for headspace on the morning of Day 1. Team India has a history of starting overseas series badly. From memory, there’s not a single series outside the subcontinent where we have won after losing the first Test.
In short, it’s crucial to start strong.
First innings runs are gold. Fourth inns batting is the hardest. Ergo, pray that your team wins the toss and decides to bat (except in NZ, but that’s the exception). Kohli winning the toss and deciding to bat was exactly that. First strike (sort of).
When Prithvi Shaw defended the first ball with the middle of the bat, I breathed a little more easily. The opening over of the match and the series can be minuscule in terms of the overall tour, but again, you want to start well. I wasn’t hopeful about Shaw given his current form, but even if he could take it to the 10th over or so, it’d be a win in my book.
Second ball, clean bowled!
To say my dreams were nipped in the bud wouldn’t do justice to either the dreams or the bud. Reason? I hadn’t even fully formed the dream. I mean, half-edges and plays-and-misses through the over would’ve been fine for me. But we didn’t get that. More problematically, it created the problem of bringing Pujara in really, really early, and raised the possibility of the same for Kohli too. Not good.
There’s a quiet comfort in watching your top-order batsmen absorb everything thrown at them by a three-headed fire-breathing hydra. India were 7/1 after 7 overs. I wasn’t bothered. Think they were 21/1 after 11 overs. I joked to myself that they’d managed to triple the score in four overs and it could only go exponential from there. Alas!
Cheteshwar Pujara taps the bat on the crease. Taps. Taps. Taps. Then, all of a sudden, his bat’s edge and his right shoulder are in line, making a perpendicular with the crease. It’s at once a moment to suck a breath in, for he’s left the ball (likely)/been beaten (less likely), but also a moment when your heartbeat calms down after an instantaneous spike. It’s even better when he’s in a half-crouch, his eyes and the bat face pointing towards the ground, and the ball right by his feet, having been stopped from venturing anywhere into dangerous territory. True, he has the rasping cuts and the diligent flicks through midwicket, but this is the essence of watching him bat, as if he’s saying, “Don’t worry, I’m still here.”
Pujara’s Essence of Batsmanship is about denial of the self, Kohli’s is usually not. But to watch the India captain bat today was reminiscent of his stirring fights across the England 2018 tour. There were a few shots, with the particular standout being the loft against Lyon early on. But his cutting out of the wide-of-the-body cover drive, and his willingness to wait out the conditions were as thrilling as any of his trademark drives.
In the end, seeing the old firm of Saha babu and Ashwin leading a mini-recovery gladdened the heart. It also meant that despite not succeeding in winning the upper hand, India are in a fighting position at the end of the day’s play. Looking forward to the two batsmen doing a St. Lucia or a Kolkata again.
Thanks for reading.
Featured image courtesy.