Antigua Test, day one: India are 302/4 at stumps on day one, with Virat Kohli batting on 143* and having Ravichandran Ashwin (22*) for company. Shikhar Dhawan hit a half-century (84) earlier in the day to stabilise the Indian innings after they lost Murali Vijay quite early. Devendra Bishoo took 3-108 on a difficult day for the hosts, having lost the toss and had to bowl on a very good pitch.
Below is the report of the first day’s play in Antigua.
The day one pitch had no demons in it whatsoever, but the Indian batsmen had to be patient and play within themselves against Shannon Gabriel and co., who, to be fair, bowled the right lines and lengths and made life difficult for the visitors. Gabriel, in particular, was incisive, consistent with his line of attack, mixed his lengths well, bowled at great speeds, and barely gave the Indian batsmen an opportunity to score off him. Jason Holder, Gabriel’s opening bowling partner, did a good holding job and ensured that the hard work put in by Gabriel was not undone from his end.
The brand new kookaburra ball did not move sideways and came nicely on to the bat, right from the word go. A steady breeze blew across Sir Vivian Richards Stadium all day, but the ball did not move in the air or off the surface, even while it was hard and shiny. West Indies, though, through some good, tight bowling, created more than a handful of chances: Dhawan, one of India’s stars with the bat on day one of the Antigua Test, played at a couple of well-directed short deliveries from Gabriel, disconcertingly, but fortuitously for him, the outside edges and the balls which were gloved, fell safely and the Delhi left-hander lived on dangerously.
The same could not be said about Vijay, who played quite uncharacteristically and looked flustered at the crease right from the off. He kept pushing at Gabriel’s deliveries outside the off-stump and never looked comfortable during his 26-ball stay in the middle. Gabriel, who had the Indian openers unsettled, gave the hosts a very crucial wicket of Vijay in the seventh over of the Indian innings. By the time he was bowling his fourth over, Gabriel had gotten into a good bowling rhythm and was in total control of each one of his deliveries. Vijay’s dismissal came off a Gabriel delivery that pitched just back of the good length, which is between six-eight metres from the batting crease, and rose up to Vijay’s throat, rather quickly – with the Tamil Nadu batsman only managing to edge the ball to Kraigg Brathwaite in the slip cordon.
Cheteshwar Pujara, India’s No. 3, joined Dhawan in the middle and played his natural game, which is being solid in his defence and patient in his approach while he gets himself in. Apart from Gabriel and Holder, Carlos Brathwaite was also economical and disciplined in the way he operated during the first session of this Test match. The result was, Indians having to work extremely hard for their runs, with a sluggish and heavy outfield also making run accumulation harder. As a result of the heavy outfield, plenty of twos and threes were on offer and Dhawan and Pujara, despite being slow movers between the wickets, did not miss out on a whole lot of runs.
Having done the hard work and blunted the new kookaburra ball, Dhawan started to flex his muscles towards the end of the first session. The tangible acceleration in scoring, particularly from Dhawan, was what pushed India’s total to more than 70 runs on the board at the end of the first session, with as many as 37 runs coming off the final eight overs. Dhawan enjoyed playing against Roston Chase, the debutant in this Test match, as the Indian opener used the bounce on offer to collect runs behind the wicket whenever Chase hit the good length for a spinner. India went into lunch at 72-1 from 27 overs.
The post-lunch session got off to an unenviable for the visitors, who lost Pujara in the very first over, to Devendra Bishoo. Unlike Vijay’s dismissal, credit for which had to be given to Gabriel, Pujara only had himself to blame for his choice of shot, especially straight after the 40-minute lunch break. Bishoo’s delivery carried no venom whatsoever, as it pitched on off-stump and turned very slightly. Pujara, who probably misjudged the length, committed himself to the pull and the extra bounce induced the top edge of the Saurashtra batsman’s blade and ballooned up in the air – only for K Brathwaite to complete a simple catch at point.
At the fall of Pujara’s wicket, ‘circumspection’ must probably have been the buzz word for the Indian batsmen and Virat Kohli, more importantly, as India’s best batsman. The reason is, having gone into this Test match with the 5-1-5 combination, India’s batting line-up lacks in depth. So, logically speaking, they would not have wanted to lose either Dhawan or Kohli at that stage. Kohli’s approach, though, was breathtaking and he took West Indies by surprise with his unflinching intent to score runs. He did not play unconventional cricket shots but was just so positive with his footwork and the way he moved and set himself up to play all around the dial. Every shot played by Kohli was a treat to the eye. Kohli, with his ultra-positive approach, transferred the pressure onto the hosts within a matter of few overs and contrary to expectations, runs started flowing in a heap from both ends.
Kohli, as aforementioned, played delightful strokes and Dhawan too, was not to be left behind. However, the West Indies’ bowling, which had been so hard to score off in the first session, slackened up a little and all the bowlers started spraying the ball all over the pitch. With Dhawan set and Kohli exuding a real sense of authority, the West Indies were made to pay for their slackness.
Holder did get into a run-saving mode and started to deploy a man at sweeper cover for Bishoo and C Brathwaite, whose failure to hit the right lengths resulted in runs being scored off him all around the ground. He gave away 29 runs in his six-over second spell, which resulted in a massive shift in momentum. The session run-rate crossed the mark of four runs-per-over at one stage, before culminating just a shade under four when the bails were drawn for tea.
Despite Pujara’s early dismissal in the session, Dhawan completed his half-century inside the first 30 minutes and kept getting better. He started to time the ball exquisitely and looked totally at home against all the West Indies bowlers. He was nearing his fifth Test century as tea was about to be taken. But, despite being in the groove, Dhawan played a shot too many and self-sabotaged. In what was the last over before tea, he got into position to sweep Bishoo, who bowled fuller and quicker. The ball was a lot fuller – a full-ish length is not the sweeping length and this was another case of misjudgement in length – and Dhawan was struck on his pads. Aleem Dar had no hesitation in raising his finger. The bails were drawn for tea and Dhawan was walking back to the pavilion, with, I am sure, a million thoughts running through his mind.
Kohli, though, was in his zone and also in complete control over the shots he played. He reached his half-century with a couple of boundaries off C Brathwaite, taking just 74 balls – at a strike-rate of 67.5 runs/100 balls – to get to the milestone. With the dismissal of Dhawan, the session ended with India at 179/3, the scorecard exuding a more even look than how the session had actually panned out following Pujara’s exit.
West Indies struggled to stem the run flow in the final session, too, as Kohli continued to accrue runs with utter nonchalance. Ajinkya Rahane, who replaced Dhawan after resumption, also looked to play positively, signalling India’s collective intent to take this Test match forward as quickly as they can. However, Rahane made almost the same error which led to Pujara’s downfall and perished for 22. Rahane was indecisive in the way he played a rank short ball from Bishoo, who bagged his third wicket of the day.
Kohli was in full flow, though, and the dismissals of Dhawan and Rahane didn’t perturb him one bit. He was absolutely decisive with the shots he played and unlike Dhawan, was not going to let an opportunity to score a Test hundred, having come this far, go. Rahane’s dismissal and the subsequent arrival of Ashwin, which was a bit surprising, did delay Kohli getting to his 12th Test century, but he reached the milestone in the 69th over of the Indian innings.
From West Indies’ viewpoint, their major problem was the ineptitude to follow up an Indian wicket with another one soon after. Of course, the pitch is a very good one to bat on, so dismissing a set batsman, especially when one is Kohli, is difficult. But these are the sort of elements which separate a good Test team from a mediocre one.
India will be very happy with where they stand in the Antigua Test, having put up 302 runs on the board after Kohli won the toss and chose to bat first. Kohli holds the key from both teams’ perspective, as West Indies could restrict India to less than 400 if they dismiss the Indian skipper cheaply on day two. On the other hand, if Kohli stays on beyond the first hour on day two, India could easily surpass 400 and potentially take the game beyond West Indies’ reach. Antigua Test is intriguingly poised, even with four complete days of cricket still to be played.