On an outfield that resembled a dry subcontinent wicket, on a pitch that had a good tinge of green on it, India kicked off their solitary warm-up match in Chelmsford against Essex ahead of the five-match Test series against England. That these are the conditions India had to play under is a bit of a shame. But given England’s prolonged, extra-warm summer, Virat Kohli and Co had to make do. But if you thought a shortened match that was deemed to be merely a friendly and not a first-class game would result in the Indian batsmen just enjoying some gentle center-wicket practice, you’d have been wrong as the Essex bowlers probed and troubled the visitors aplenty.

From 1/1, and 5/2, then 44/3, to finish on 322/6 would mean India made a solid enough recovery but it’d be best not to read too much into the scoreboard, not just because this was a warm-up game, but also given the fact that India were able to play the extra batsman in their lineup, given there are no restrictions on which 11 out of the squad gets to bat.

With that said, here are the talking points from the opening day of the three-day match.

Rahul stakes his claim

Kohi deciding to use Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara as his top three in the only warm-up match was perhaps a strong indication that this was his preferred lineup for Edgbaston. As of stumps, there is more than a fair chance that might not be the case anymore. If Kohli and Ravi Shastri so vehemently argued in favour of Rohit Sharma being picked against South Africa on the basis of “current form”, KL Rahul should be a shoo-in for the XI now.

Plenty has been written about Dhawan’s trouble with the moving red ball. He might be undroppable, even overseas, when it comes to white ball cricket but it’s become something of a pattern now to trust him at the top of the order in Tests based on his limited-overs form and then see it backfire. While the delivery he got from Matt Coles first up was indeed a good one, a better opening batsman would have let it go. It’s entirely unsurprising and at the same time, frustrating from an Indian perspective to see Dhawan be troubled when there is a slightest hint of seam movement.

And then there is Cheteshwar Pujara. Is he going to be (perhaps) the first player in Indian history to worsen his chances of making the Test playing XI by opting to play county cricket? Pujara’s horror show for Yorkshire, coupled with his uncomfortable stay in the middle against Essex, has made his position come under significant threat.

Coming into bat at No 6, Rahul had a few things going for him. He was batting when the pitch had eased up under the sun. He did not face a single delivery from the Essex new ball bowlers during his stay. But Rahul, apart from the first five balls he faced, rarely looked under trouble. He hogged the strike in the partnership with Dinesh Karthik, eager to spend as much time out in the middle. In the first 11 overs of their partnership, Rahul faced 50 balls. This was clearly a man on a mission. As he so often does, he frustratingly threw away his wicket by going for a rash shot. But a 92-ball 58 shouted “pick me!” to his captain.

Dhawan and Pujara are the ones under pressure from Rahul, even if Rahane is not exactly lighting up the form chart. Assuming Kohli is not going to, for now, mess with Rahane’s slot at No 5, it’s the top three where Rahul would slot in.

DK in good touch

Unlike the top three, there is no immediate pressure on Karthik given that the untested Rishabh Pant is his backup. Karthik is guaranteed a fairly long rope for the early part of the series and he did his case no harm by playing a supremely fluent innings, taking on the tiring Essex bowlers. In a chanceless, boundary-filled knock, Karthik looked in supreme touch. It was only towards the end of the day his strike rate dropped below 100, as he hit 14 boundaries during his as-yet unbeaten 94-ball 82. Apart from the occasional wobbles outside the offstump, Karthik looked in complete control during his innings.

Wriddhiman Saha’s wicket-keeping might be a notch above Karthik’s but there is no doubting who is the better batsman between the two. And given Kohli’s liking for the five-man bowling attack, Karthik’s form in the middle order augurs well for India’s batting lineup.

Kohli does his thing

At the end of the first hour, India were lucky to be just two wickets down. It was not the most auspicious of starts for the red-ball leg of the tour. India’s challenges with the new ball on a seaming pitch was signified by the fact that Vijay got his first boundary of the morning at the stroke of the 60-minute mark. Matt Coles and Matt Quinn bowled impeccable line and length, without doing anything extraordinary and that was enough to send Dhawan (first-ball duck), Pujara (1 off 7), and Rahane (17 off 47) back to the pavilion.

And, not for the first time in his career and certainly not the last, Kohli walked out to bat with his side in trouble. While it can be said that Rahul and Karthik made the best of the improving conditions while making their half centuries, Kohli made batting look easy, the bowlers look ordinary, the pitch look benign, when Vijay seemed to be batting in a parallel universe from the other end. Except for a three-ball spell in the 34th over of the day when he was squared up by three top-class outswingers by Quinn, Kohli looked at ease – personified by his response to getting beaten thrice, which was a rasping cover drive to end that over.

India’s biggest issue during the series defeat in South Africa was that, far too often, Kohli seemed to be the only one capable of overcoming the conditions and bat with fluency. And, perhaps worryingly for India, the story was the same during the first session against Essex, when the conditions were the toughest to bat.