IND va ENG – 2nd Test Match: Kohli, Pujara tons put India in the box seat

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November 17, 2016

Brief Scorecard: India 317 for 4 (Kohli 151*, Pujara 119, Anderson 3-44) v England

Virat Kohli raises his bat to the crowd after raising his century, India v England, 2nd Test, Visakhapatnam, 1st day, November 17, 2016 – AP

November 17, 2016

Brief Scorecard: India 317 for 4 (Kohli 151*, Pujara 119, Anderson 3-44) v England

Virat Kohli raises his bat to the crowd after raising his century, India v England, 2nd Test, Visakhapatnam, 1st day, November 17, 2016 – AP

Visakhapatnam – To make up for the lukewarm sale of tickets and ensure that the first day of the first ever Test match at this venue did not go entirely unpatronised, the Andhra Cricket Association threw the gates open on Thursday (November 17). The move wasn’t necessarily an unqualified success, though upwards of 8000 people braved the harsh sun to make a beeline to the ground nestled in the foothills of a hillock that contributes to the Eastern Ghats.

Having conceded a rare home toss in the previous Test in Rajkot, Virat Kohli threw the gates open for his side to make the most of the best batting conditions in the game as Alastair Cook called wrong to herald the start of the second Test. The Indian skipper himself led the way with a beautifully crafted 14th hundred, which, combined with Cheteshwar Pujara’s third consecutive Test ton, snatched the initiative – and perhaps even the game – away from England.

On a track that was widely expected to assist the spinners – and indications that those expectations weren’t without basis burst forth as the day unfolded – it was the new ball that did the early damage for England. KL Rahul, on his comeback, lasted just five deliveries before Stuart Broad had his number, and M Vijay’s fluent cameo was cut short by a snorter from James Anderson, in his first competitive game since mid-August, so that inside the first five overs, India were in a hole at 22 for 2.

England had good reason to believe that the early exchanges had put them in a position of comfort. After all, the spinners had not even been pressed into service and already the Indian openers were back in the hut. India, again playing with five specialist batsmen – Jayant Yadav, the offspinner, made his debut as Amit Mishra was dropped – were perhaps one more blow away from entirely squandering the advantage of the toss, if they hadn’t already. The English tails were up.

And then came Kohli, all intent and purpose and coiled energy, a tightly wound spring seemingly ready to explode as he kept his romance with the ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium going. In Pujara, he found a wonderful ally during a third-wicket association of 226 which, as it gained in stature and momentum, knocked a lot of spirit out of the visiting outfit.

Riding on the twin tons, India powered away to 317 for 4 at stumps, still in a strong position despite the loss in the penultimate over of Ajinkya Rahane to Anderson and the second new ball. Kohli’s unbeaten 151 extended his wonderful run in international cricket at this venue. In his four previous knocks, all in One-Day Internationals, he had posted scores of 118, 117, 99 and 65. Further, each of Kohli’s last three Test tons has been in excess of 150, a sure sign that his threshold for satisfaction is getting higher and higher.

If Kohli came away with the plaudits marginally ahead of the in-form Pujara, it wasn’t just because he was undefeated at the close. Apart from one top-edged pull off Ben Stokes that flew just past the wicketkeeper, and another top-edge that a more agile fielder than Adil Rashid at fine-leg would have wrapped his hands around when on 56, the Indian skipper seldom put a foot wrong. As the sun beat down and dried up the surface further, there was inconsistency in bounce; as the track began to wear, some deliveries spun sharply and took off alarmingly. Kohli was unfazed, quite the Zen master as he addressed every challenge alternately with a tight defence or attractive strokeplay, but always with a stout heart and a broad blade.

At times in the first innings in Rajkot, Kohli seemed a little frustrated that England were defensive in their lines to him. Quickly realising that he had to be proactive, he started to shuffle on to and sometimes even well outside off from towards the middle of his innings, ensuring the sixth or seventh-stump line didn’t prevent him from working the gaps. When the ball was within the stumps, he drove wondrously through the covers, getting down low and using his wrists to keep the ball down even if he did sometimes drive away from his body.

Stokes did try to get under his skin with a sustained burst of short-pitched bowling in the immediacy of lunch with a fine-leg and a wide long-leg on the fence, and a deep forward square-leg three-quarters of the way to the boundary. Kohli was up for the battle, playing the pull without inhibition or hesitancy. The two top-edges, the second of which should have been taken, apart, he was always on top of the ball, refraining from pulling from outside his right shoulder and therefore always in a position to hit down on the ball.

Where Kohli stamped his authority in his inimitable fashion, Pujara almost quietly stacked up the runs. He did play some outstanding strokes, including a gorgeous off-drive off Broad that sped past mid-off even before the bowler had completed his follow through. His footwork to the spin trio of Rashid, Zafar Ansari and Moeen Ali was a masterclass in getting to the pitch of the ball and therefore negating any potential for turn. His supple wrists and the strong bottom hand helped him find the gaps on the on-side with reasonable regularity, and even though Rahul and Vijay had departed cheaply, India were always scoring at a healthy clip throughout the day.

Cheteshwar Pujara celebrates his century, India v England, 2nd Test, Visakhapatnam, 1st day, November 17, 2016

Pujara, though, should have been run out twice in one Rashid over before lunch after mix-ups with Kohli when 22 and 23 respectively, only barely managing to regain his ground on each occasion. The running was a little helter-skelter for a brief while after that, but once the two regained their composure and reopened the lines of communication, it was fairly smooth sailing.

A dog-invasion that hastened the tea interval temporarily halted Pujara’s march to his tenth hundred, but he got there in style, depositing a long-hop from Rashid deep into the mid-wicket stands. Kohli got there a few minutes later with an uncomplicated single, his celebrations only slightly more muted than when he reached fifty. Ominously for England, the job wasn’t done yet as far as the skipper was concerned.

Pujara offered them a lifeline by slashing at a short, widish delivery from Anderson and getting a thick edge through to Jonny Bairstow, but if England thought they were on to a good thing finally, they were mistaken. Without looking anywhere near fluent, Rahane hung on alongside Kohli almost till the close before being sucked into poking at one that swung away and nicking off, his struggles illustrating just how difficult the going will be for new batsmen on a track beginning to play more than the odd trick.

England will look back at their bowling display with disappointment. There wasn’t swing – conventional or reverse – for the quicks who were tidy, none more so than Anderson who finished with 3 for 44. The spin threesome, so impressive in the first Test, was inconsistent in both length and direction, driven or cut and pulled to make Cook’s task difficult. India are clearly in the box seat; it’s up to them to do the running from here on, first with the bat and then with their assortment of spinners and pacemen.


Courtesy: Wisden India