Cheteshwar Pujara dismissed pulling on a green seaming deck. Hanuma Vihari dismissed trying to hook the last ball before tea. How can two batsmen renowned for their patience play such adventurous strokes? At the close of the day, Vihari was asked about his ill-timed shot. "I was batting positively but I played one shot too many" he stated.
So where did all this positivity come from? After the loss in Wellington, Virat Kohli made it quite clear that his batsmen needed to bat with more intent and clarity. "I don't think being cautious or wary will help because you might stop playing your shots. You will start doubting that if even singles are not coming in those conditions, what will you do?” he told reporters at the post-match press conference.
From that statement, it was obvious that the Indian batsmen were going to up the tempo. They were going to counterattack and put the New Zealand bowlers under pressure regardless of the conditions. Until the stroke of tea, the more aggressive approach was proving effective. Pujara was striding towards the full ball and dispatching them to the fence. Vihari took on Neil Wagner's bouncer barrage and struck a few boundaries. Prithvi Shaw dropped and ran a couple of quick singles at the start of his innings. Ajinkya Rahane began his innings by driving a good length ball through the covers.
For 53 overs the strategy was functioning effectively as India moved swiftly to 194-4 on a pitch that resembled the centre court at Wimbledon. Ravi Shastri and Kohli would have been elated by the way all the batsmen had batted with more purpose.
But while it was happening there was a sense of unnaturalness. Pujara got off the mark with an airy drive where it seemed like his purpose was to smash the cover of the ball. Then on 43, he tried to smash a drive and ended up dragging the ball wide of mid-on. It was abnormal and aberrant. It was clear the likes of Pujara and Vihari were pushing themselves out of their comfort zone. While it lasted it was always going to be fine, but when it snapped it was bound to look mediocre.
Vihari started the rot on the stroke of tea. The shot was unnecessary. He had already scored 33 from his previous 21 balls. It was always going to be the last over before tea. India had already added over 100 runs in a session. Wagner was always going to be attempt another short ball. Despite all these factors, Vihari went with his instincts. This is how India was going to play or wanted to play.
Then after tea, it was Pujara that fell for the bait. The India No 3 thumped the bat into the ground as he departed the arena. Not only must he have been disappointed with the shot, but also because he had crossed 50 in a slightly un-Pujara manner. But when the situation demanded him to play his own game he couldn't. This was another example of a batsman pushing the boundaries for the sake of a bravado approach.
On a pitch that was touted as a nightmare for the batsmen, India had slumped from 194-4 to be bowled out for 242. Three batsmen – Pujara, Vihari and Shaw all registered fifties, but all fell to overzealous shots. Rishab Pant's shot was inexcusable. After being dropped twice off consecutive balls on would have thought he would tighten his game, but somewhere in his mind he heard the voice that told him – attack.
Perhaps the most irritating aspect of the day was that on a heavily grassed pitch it was the batsmen that got themselves out. Apart from Rahane, all other batsmen were guilty of trying to be expansive. Even Kohli let his hands get so far from his body despite spending a long time in the nets attempting to play the ball right under his eyes.
Credit should be given to India for altering their methods and opting to play with more intent. But did they get the results? A modest score of 242 suggests this method hasn't worked either. As Vihari said, "none of the dismissals were because of the pitch. Mostly it was because of batsmen's error."
India have runs on the board and by no means out of the contest, but as batsmen reflect on an opening day, most would be asking themselves "why did I play that shot'. All of them will get another chance in the second innings but by then they could be batting under completely different circumstances.
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