Updated: July 26, 2018 1:28:17 am
BEFORE WEDNESDAY, the the towering Paul Walter’s most high-profile victim was Shivnarine Chanderpaul. The 6’6” tall left-armer, son of a Chelmsford cop, has more or less remained on the fringes of the senior Essex team. The rescheduling of India’s warm-up fixture, which resulted in both teams allowed to give their entire squads a go, meant that Walter got to play in the biggest match of his career yet. And he didn’t let it go waste, by adding two more starry scalps to his collection in Murali Vijay and Virat Kohli.
The two, however, had by then scored a half-century each – just like KL Rahul and Dinesh Karthik would subsequently – as India finished the first day on 322 for 6 on a very English pitch and in very non-English conditions, which included a garba performance by some locals during the tea break.
The manner of the two dismissals though were straight out of the manual of “what not to do as a batsman” on English soil. Both batsmen were guilty of committing to their shots too early and, in Kohli’s case to a delivery that was anywhere but close to him. Vijay was bowled through the gate by one that nipped back into him as he attempted an extravagant drive through the covers. Kohli, after a stroke-filled and confident 68, had fallen in the way he usually does in England — leaving his bat to dry against a delivery that pitched around off-stump and, with the left-armer’s angle, ended up around the sixth stump at the point of impact with the outside edge.
It started with a top-order implosion. There were batsmen, like Kohli and Vijay, who played away from their bodies and committed to strokes prematurely. There was a batsman who threw his wicket away to finger spin after having done all the hard work against the seamers in spiteful climes.
At the same time, those who were successful and among the runs, including Kohli and Vijay, also showed the virtue of leaving their ego, or a major portion of it, in the dressing room. They were beaten on various occasions outside the off-stump without letting it affect them. But they were egoistic enough to put the bad ball away with disdain.
Matt Coles and Matt Quinn are no Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. They are honest county seamers who are skilled enough to make the most of swinging conditions. On Wednesday morning, they were making the ball talk. It’s a predicament that India might have to contend with during the Tests, even if the pitches aren’t as bowler-friendly as the one in Chelmsford. And there’s a chance that the middle order might well have to face the music earlier than expected like it happened here as India were reduced to 5/2 and 44/3 by the third and 19th overs. Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane were the early victims and they all went edging to veteran wicketkeeper James Foster after playing forceful defensive strokes away from the body to the Essex new-ball bowlers. That Pujara fell this way should be worrying for the Saurashtra batsman, considering he’s spent nearly a month or so battling these very conditions to prepare for this very challenge.
Playing close to the body
It’s perhaps the most basic, yet monumentally crucial, prerequisite for succeeding in England. Vijay provided a masterclass of the same on the 2014 tour, and did so in patches here. He was guilty on a couple of occasions, even getting dropped twice in the slips. But more or less, he was confident while leaving the ball — another trademark of his from the last tour — and stuck to playing the ball as late as possible to survive and score for 113 balls — the most on Wednesday — before that fatal error against Walter.
Playing the ball late
Kohli started off in a hurry with a flurry of boundaries. The first was a slap through the covers, and then a fortunate tuck down leg past the diving Foster, followed by a series of Kohli-esque cover and square drives that lit up Chelmsford. He didn’t seem to alter his inherent nature of “feeling” for the ball, but by committing to his strokes only once the ball was right under his nose, he was in the perfect shape while hitting each one of his 12 fours, including a whippy flick to a middle-stump half-volley. If anything, he was guilty on a couple of occasions of closing the face of his bat early and getting a minor leading edge.
Then like Vijay, he succumbed to that one minor slip-up. Rahul too impressed with this aspect of his batting, and perhaps looked the most accomplished of the lot alongside Kohli, which might augur well for an opening for him in the playing XI. Hardik Pandya too stood out later in the day, curtailing his natural aggressive tendencies impressively, and being in control of his strokeplay.
Leaving your ego behind
Kohli was beaten outside the off-stump on a few occasions, just like most of the other Indian batsmen were. But it was generally while his bat and pads were still close to each other. On each occasion, he didn’t even turn around but simply scratched his guard with the right foot and went back into his stance. It’s a nearly yogic trait that every batsman who’s scored runs in England has to possess or develop, considering the tiny margin for error in English conditions.
Putting the bad ball away
The real recipe for success though is to then put the bad ball away, which Kohli and Rahul did with regularity. Karthik, on the other hand, took the aggressive approach and went after the Essex bowlers from the start, putting them off their rhythm and eventually succeeding, despite being fortunate a few times while flashing away. He could end up playing a game-breaking role, if he sticks to this approach and it comes off in the Tests.
Brief Scores: India 322/6 in 84 overs (D Karthik 82 batting, V Kohli 68, KL Rahul 58, M Vijay 53; M Coles 2/31) at stumps on Day 1.