Four half-centuries and a modest total. Those were the couple of positive takeaways for the Indians who got to bat first against an Essex second XI. The pitch was lime green, something coach Ravi Shastri had said India were not shy of confronting.
Even before the crowd took their seats, Shikhar Dhawan had edged his way back to the dressing room. And by the time the fans were settled in, Cheteshwar Pujara too walked back disappointed, also edging behind the wicket. But as a scorching sun blazed, India prospered.
Here are the gleanings from first day’s play.
India’s top order wobbles
In the limited overs-leg of the UK tour, Dhawan lost his way after strong starts by running himself out twice. Today, even before he got his eye in, he inside edged the third ball of the match, which Essex wicketkeeper James Foster collected neatly. Foster cashed in on another opportunity when Pujara offered a thick edge as he was opened up by Matt Coles.
With India opting to shorten this match to a three-day affair, the duo can only hope that they get another opportunity in the game. Of the two, Pujara would be the one more concerned. Despite being the most experienced batsman in English conditions due to his various county stints, the questions are piling up for Pujara.
Vijay shows character
His only error of judgement cost M Vijay his wicket. He had attempted to drive left-arm seamer Paul Walter away from his body, but the ball took out off stump instead. Still, Vijay had done a good job. He was out early in both innings in the India A match against England Lions last week in Worcester, but today, Vijay was solid and patient.
Early on, Matthew Quinn used his height to extract good bounce and movement. In the third over after the first hour, Quinn consistently drew Vijay forward with length deliveries that seamed away. One of those induced an outside edge and nearly carried to Varun Chopra at first slip. Vijay, however, remained calm in the face of this early examination. He left the ball confidently and punched fluent drives on the off side to record a patient half-century. He will know that stiffer challenges lie ahead, when the ball comes at a faster pace repeatedly from James Anderson and Stuart Broad over the next month.
If you look at purely the numbers, KL Rahul might have already won the race against Pujara for the No. 3 spot. Pujara got 1. Rahul got 68. But Pujara walked in against the new ball on a fresh greentop. By the time Rahul arrived, the pitch had dried out. The ball was old. The bowlers had lost a bit of energy. On the other hand, Rahul had walked in when India had lost two settled batsmen in Vijay and Virat Kohli, in the span of four overs, and the total hadn’t even reached 200.
It took him a while to find his rhythm, but once he had it, Rahul was convincing. When Matt Dixon bounced him, Rahul was proactive and pulled him for an easy four over midwicket. When Aron Nijjar maintained an outside off stump line, Rahul moved outside the line of the ball to execute a lovely flick that raced past the ropes. Despite being dropped from the final ODI of the England series for reasons he said even he was not aware of, Rahul today showed good composure.
But just like all the other men who had 50s today, Rahul too fell when he was going strong. Attempting a premeditated charge against Nijjar, Rahul lofted the ball into the hands of Dixon at mid-off.
Kohli survives ‘the Anderson’
Ajinkya Rahane had walked in as No.4. Having just played the India A match, the think-tank would have wanted to give Rahane enough match time to get mentally ready for the Test series. Although Rahane did get a start, he was scratchy and was beaten a few times too many. Against one of those deliveries, from Quinn, he edged behind the wicket to help Foster pouch his third victim.
Kohli did not let that affect him. India were 29 for 2 after the first hour in which 14 overs were bowled, and then 44 for 3. Immediately Kohli upped the intensity. He stood tall on his toes to unleash a powerful square cut against Dixon for his first four.
But even though he was settled and nearing a half-century, Kohli faced a stern test from Quinn. On 41 Kohli received an Anderson ball: pitched on a length on off stump, drawn forward to play, bat left hanging, ball almost kissing the outside edge on the way to the keeper. Quinn used the same length and the same ball to beat Kohli thrice in a row. But no sooner did Quinn push the length by an inch, on the last ball of the same over, Kohli pounced on it to drive through cover for four. Kohli would still be annoyed at himself for trying to fetch the ball and edging a fuller one, which Paul Walter had angled towards the fourth stump, to second slip.
Karthik cashes in
With Dinesh Karthik, you can never predict what you’ll get. No one, including the man himself, possibly expected to walk back raising his bat, undefeated, as the top run-maker on the day. Karthik played and missed and nearly edged frequently against the seamers. But one thing he did not miss was putting away the bad balls, of which there were many.
With Hardik Pandya struggling against the moving delivery and spin, Karthik’s role at No. 6 is vital for India’s lower order. Karthik will be happy he could play his range of strokes despite some edgy moments.