Virat Kohli stood in his position. Hunched over. Hands relaxed. He was practising slip-catching to a right-hand batsman. R Sridhar, the India fielding coach, nicked one off the outside edge. The ball zipped low to Kohli’s left. Kohli leaned to his left before picking a one-handed catch. It was a beauty.
Ajinkya Rahane, India’s vice-captain, standing about 20 yards behind Kohli, acknowledged the captain’s attempt. “Catch,” exclaimed Rahane. Sridhar squealed in delight, loud enough to ring across the ground at Chelmsford, where Indian will play their one-off practice match against Essex from Wednesday.
Originally, the match was meant to be a four-day game, and some even suspected it could be a first-class match. However, India’s think-tank opted to play the match plainly as a warm-up and reduced it to a three-day game.
The current heat wave across England was one of the chief reasons for the team management to shorten the match to three days. Temperatures in London this week are forecast to be minimum 30C. Under the prevailing scorching conditions, the management decided that a three-day game was appropriate to trigger the intensity levels of the players going into a long five-match series.
The extra day gained could then be utilised for training at Edgbaston, where the first Test of the five-match series against England begins on August 1. Originally, India would have reached Birmingham on July 29 (accounting for a four-day finish against Essex) but now they will arrive a day earlier and are likely to have three days of nets before the Test.
The Essex website had listed tickets for a four-day match as recent as Monday, but discussions with India and the ECB resulted in the change. Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, was spotted at the ground, speaking with India coach Ravi Shastri.
Once the India squad had left, Essex confirmed the development through a media release, saying that the current “high temperatures” was the main factor. “Essex Cricket and the England & Wales Cricket Board have today agreed, at the request of the BCCI Management Team, that the scheduled Tourist match between Essex and India will now be played over three days.” People who have bought the tickets for the fourth day will now receive a full refund.
The last-minute change did not have any impact on the intensity levels of the India players on Tuesday, the first day of training for the Test-match leg as the squad assembled to train for the first time. All the 18 players named were on the field, including Jasprit Bumrah who injured his left thumb in India’s first match of the UK tour against Ireland in June. Bumrah, who will be available for selection from the second Test (at Lord’s), only bowled off a couple of paces on a practice pitch and had his left thumb still protected in a blue brace.
Otherwise, the rest of the squad trained assiduously during the session, which lasted for close to four hours. Although the match has been shortened, a few hints emerged about the kind of batting and bowling attack India will aim to field at Edgbaston.
Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul are likely to comprise the top order followed by the engine room of India’s Test batting in Kohli and Rahane. Dinesh Karthik and Hardik Pandya will bolster the lower order.
Despite the hot conditions, the pitch wore a greenish cover and is likely to be on the harder side. Regardless of the nature of the pitch, India will want to see how Kuldeep Yadav fares with the red Dukes ball. This is Kuldeep’s first tour of the UK and so far he has shown impressive form with the white ball, taking two five-fors. However, the England batsmen threw back the challenge at Kuldeep after finally starting to read his left-arm unorthodox spin from the hand in the final two matches of the ODI series, which India lost 2-1.
Kuldeep bowled on one of the practice pitches which was totally green, in the company of the senior spin twins, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Although they could not impart much spin off the pitch, all three spinners focused on varying the flight and pace to get an upper hand over the batsmen. Of the three men, Ashwin got the best results and even embarrassed Pandya more than once as the batsman charged him.
With no cap on the number of players, India are likely to field all their fast bowlers – Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Shardul Thakur – in the practice game. Essex meanwhile named a squad featuring several first-team regulars, including Tom Westley, capped in the Test team last year, as captain.