Virat Kohli is a perfectionist. The India captain is so particular about the practice session that he demands to know the exact field placement from each member of the Indian fast bowling unit before facing up to his teammates. Ishant Sharma, the most senior member of the pace unit bowls him a short ball that Kohli pulls with vigour into the side netting."Four or two or single? ‘Fine leg he kya deep square leg? He asks Ishant, before resuming again. As he switches to the adjacent net where throw down specialists Raghu and Nuwan are hurling balls at brisk speeds with the sidearm, he tells the left-arm slinger – over the wicket with the new ball and around the wicket with the old ball. This is all in preparation for Mitchell Starc.
Kohli wants to leave no stone unturned ahead of the four-Test series starting next week. As he jumps from one net to another at the Sydney Cricket Ground, he even marks a length for the fast bowlers to aim at. As he leaves a delivery outside the off-stump, he tells Mohammad Shami ‘too short – aur age chalega". He even goes to the extent of a marking a spot for the fast bowlers to aim at.
Tuesday might have been the first day all the members of the Test squad trained collectively, but batting coach, Sanjay Bangar has been conjuring up plans with the Test specialists from last week. Bangar flew to Sydney on the morning of the first T20 and has been working intensely with Prithvi Shaw, Ajinkya Rahane, Murali Vijay, Hanuma Vihari and Parthiv Patel.
Even as the rest of the test squad members arrived in the nets ahead of the first tour match starting on Wednesday, Bangar had laid out specific drills. Tennis balls were hit with a racquet from 10 yards at the batsmen to emulate the short balls the Australian pace battery is likely to hurl down at the Indian batsmen. There was plenty of ducking and leaving. Watching from a close proximity Bangar reassured them of their methods to evade the ball and also gave a few pointers if they made a mistake. Even the tailenders had to spend a minimum of five minutes confronting the tennis ball hit towards them with force. It is clear India don't want to miss a single trick.
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In the spinner's nets, Ravichandran Ashwin bowled for two hours non-stop. From a close vantage point, one can make out that he was trying to put more body into the ball. There is also a conscious effort to apply more overspin on the ball rather than side spin. After each ball, he gestured to himself by snapping his wrist and also reminding his mind to apply more overspin on the ball. It was about getting the muscle memory right. He then wandered down towards the batsmen's end and examined the right length. Throughout the two hours, Ashwin was educating himself. The off-spinner is on his third tour to Australia and it is clear from his session that he is desperate to find the right formula to succeed down under.
But perhaps the most fascinating drill in on the farthest net from the main entrance. It consists of the batsmen batting at the bowler's end and a metre behind the bowling crease. The stumps on the far end are also moved to the edge of the practice strip so the bowler's footholes resemble a giant rough patch outside the off-stump for the left-handers.
Bangar once again is in action, he hurls balls into the rough and each member of the top order is asked to negotiate the unpredictable bounce and variance of turn. Some balls leaped up from the rough, some stayed low, some turned and some went straight on. Each batsman had various ways to combat the challenge. Kohli and Rahane trusted their defense, Rohit tried the reverse sweep while Hanuma Vihari and KL Rahul used their feet to smother the ball.
The last time India played a Test in Adelaide, Nathan Lyon caused havoc for the Indian right-handers by bowling in the rough and picking up 12 wickets. Furthermore, even Moeen Ali had plenty of success against the Indian batsmen at Southampton and it is clear that the team management wants to fix this problem before the Test series begins next week.
The video analyst also ensured that the fast bowlers hit the right length by recording them with an iPad from side on. In the past, the Indian bowlers have failed to hit the right length often making the cardinal sin of bowling far too short. This time around India have been paying close attention to all the smaller aspects. They want to make sure that the mistakes are not repeated and their preparations are perfect just like Kohli's batting.
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"We are hoping that Ajinkya will get back into form and he will still play a major role in the Indian team's batting so, I don't think we have arrived to that point where it should become a concern," Rathour said.
Kohli's announcement comes on the back of his decision to step down as India's T20 captain.
The decision to hand over the white-ball captaincy to Sharma comes in the wake of Kohli’s decision to focus on his batting as India gears up for two World Cups – T20 and ODI, scheduled between 2022 and 2023 respectively.