Even before a ball was bowled at Sabina Park in Jamaica on Friday on day one of the second Test between India and West Indies, there was a lot happening.
The heat was so harsh in Kingston that Sir Vivian Richards had to be walked off the field during the pre-match talk show that was hosted in the blazing sun. His absence from the ground meant two West Indies debutants, Rahkeem Cornwall and Jahmar Hamilton, were to miss out on the opportunities to receive their Test caps from the legendary batsman. Richards would later return to commentary and joke that the sun managed to do what the ball failed to during his playing days: fell him. Jason Holder was already sweating through his blazer during the coin toss. Virat Kohli, meanwhile, had named an unchanged XI for only the second time in his reign as India’s Test captain.
By the time the day came to an end though, it would be the two captains who had the biggest say in where the match stood.
Holder steps up
If you would ask a Test team captain what his worst nightmare was before the game — to see one of his main bowlers walk off the field after just three overs after having won the toss would make it to the top three, surely. Holder had to witness just that when Shannon Gabriel lumbered off after bowling just 18 balls, during which time India were off to a quick start: 32/0 after 6 overs.
In came Holder to bowl the seventh over and produced an absolute peach that got rid of KL Rahul: landing on a good length with the angle, straightening late and catching the outside edge of the bat without the batsman’s permission, so to speak.
From there on, Holder went on to bowl six terrific overs of seam bowling, barely giving the Indian batsman an inch. His first spell figures read: 6-4-2-1.
And with Gabriel once again struggling at the start of the second session, Holder took it upon himself to bring his side back into the game, with Mayank Agarwal and Kohli going steadily.
The former had just reached his 50, living off the edge against Kemar Roach and the partnership had moved steadily up to 69. Holder produced another effort ball, surprising Agarwal with the bounce and late nip. His figures read: 10-5-12-2.
Kohli battles hard
And while Holder, along with an impressively accurate Cornwall, kept West Indies in the hunt, Kohli decided to take things into his own hands with the bat.
His start to the innings on Friday was as scratchy as one remembers a Kohli innings starting in recent memory. He was having difficulties dealing with Cornwall’s unique trajectory of off-spin bowling early on, surviving a few mishits that didn’t carry to fielders, getting beaten outside his off-stump and surviving a confident LBW appeal. Kohli started with scoring just 2 runs off the first 24 balls he faced against the debutant.
At lunch, Kohli was on 5 off 30 balls.
He came out more sure-footed, hitting a few early boundaries in the second session to signal that all was back to normal. From thereon, till the 72nd over of the day, he went about his business with consummate ease.
Ian Bishop kept repeating on the broadcast that this was not an easy wicket to bat on, but Kohli was not being put under pressure. He reached his 50 off 112 balls and played two gorgeous cover drives in the overs leading up to the landmark. At that point, a betting man would have thought a Kohli century was a given.
Despite losing Ajinkya Rahane soon after tea, Kohli took control in the final session and started finding the boundaries more frequently. The strike rate kept moving upwards steadily and that is when Holder decided to step up one final time.
With a near carbon copy of that unplayable delivery that got Rahul earlier, the West Indies captain ended Kohli’s innings and leaped in delight. It is one thing to do that in the seventh over of the day against Rahul, it is completely another to get the ball to move as he did that late in the day and dismiss a well-set Kohli.
At the toss, Kohli had said that he wanted his batsmen to keep their focus in and out of breaks in play. And converse to that, Rahane was dismissed in the first over after tea and Kohli himself lost his wicket with one over left for the final drinks break.
And at the end of that attritional day in Jamaica, both captains would have reasons to have mixed feelings. Kohli would have liked dearly to convert his 76 into a Test ton and getting out when he did would hurt him, knowing his desire to score big. Holder would have loved more support from his fellow pacers in the first couple of sessions after opting to bowl on a green pitch.
But, when they put their feet up and go to sleep in their rooms, the two captains can take a second and reflect on the grit and application they displayed on a brutal day. One had battled hard for 163 deliveries for an atypical 76, while the other plugged away in the heat to bowl 20 overs for figures of 3/39.
In demanding conditions, Holder and Kohli led from the front as good leaders should.