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Kohli, Rahane send New Zealand on leather-hunt

Wisden India logo Wisden India 09-10-2016

The hard work was done on the first day. It was time to reap the rewards. Virat Kohli became the first Indian Test captain to score two double-centuries while Ajinkya Rahane missed his maiden double-ton by 12 runs as India downed New Zealand with all their batting might in the third Test in Indore.

Kohli (211) and Rahane (188) started Sunday’s (October 9) second day on 267 for 3, and batted on until an over after tea, extending their fourth-wicket partnership to 365 and setting up India for a declaration at 557 for 5. Martin Guptill and Tom Latham then safely saw through a tricky nine overs to end the day on 28 for no loss, trailing India by 529 runs.

It was an old-fashioned way of Indian domination – bat big in the first innings when the conditions are most suitable, tire out the opposition, and allow your spinners to take control. It was almost as if the Indians wanted to show the packed Holkar Stadium what they’ve missed all these years.

Full scorecard: India vs New Zealand, 3rd Test

And they did it so gradually that one could see New Zealand’s helplessness with every passing ball, over and session. India’s run-rate in the first session was 3.37. They scored even slower – at 3.26 runs an over – in the second. It was death by slow poison, not a brutal murder.

Both Kohli and Rahane were more free-flowing even while ensuring that all those qualities they exhibited on the first day – cautious defence, impressive application and restraint – were intact.

The end result was utter dominance, but the process was anything but easy. Rahane in particular had to face some chin music early on when Matt Henry peppered him with some short balls from around the wicket.

The bouncer-barrage had troubled Rahane throughout the first day and it was no different on Sunday. He ducked awkwardly at times, took a blow on his helmet, and was even nearly caught at fine-leg. But just like he did on Saturday, Rahane gutsed it out and came out unscathed.

Photos: Cricketers — Then and now

Cricketers: Then and now

It was here that Kohli’s presence helped. The Indian captain knew exactly when to take control, and kept the scoreboard moving to ensure there was no pressure. It allowed Rahane to go past his century, the landmark coming with a pull off Trent Boult. Almost silently, Kohli went past his 150-run mark.

The personal milestones were out of the way and it was time to set foot on the accelerator. Rahane took charge now, shifting gears with remarkable ease. He charged down the track to loft Jeetan Patel over the long-off fence, and later repeated the shot against Mitchell Santner.

More than the big hits, though, it was Rahane’s inside-out shots over extra-cover that stood out. The spinners even tried a leg-stump line, but Rahane still made room to hit over the off-side.

While Rahane showed no fear in going over the field, Kohli collected his boundaries through elegant drives and steers. Only after he crossed 150 did he play his first lofted shot and the reverse-sweep. His wrist-work in particular was impressive, the punchy flicks regularly racing between mid-wicket and mid-on.

The extraordinary discipline meant Kohli was largely untroubled. The only time he seemed in trouble was when Rahane, looking to attack Patel again, smashed the ball at the non-striker. Fortunately, Kohli’s bat came in the way, drawing smiles from both batsmen.

Once that danger was out of the way, Kohli resumed working the gaps, and soon reached his double-ton with a flick off Henry. It was a memorable milestone in tough conditions, but there were no extravagant celebrations.

The 471-minute association finally ended when Patel lured Kohli into a lazy flick and trapped him leg before in the first over after tea. Rahane continued the acceleration but followed soon, edging a wide ball from Boult to the wicketkeeper. 

A well-deserved double-century was denied but there would be no respite for New Zealand. Rohit Sharma, who was kept waiting padded-up for close to eight hours, helped himself a quick half-century, his third in the series, before India declared. The hosts were penalised five runs after Ravindra Jadeja’s third official indiscretion of running down the middle of the pitch while looking for runs.

“I don’t know if we could have done it a whole lot different with the ball,” James Neesham had lamented after the first day’s play. It was no different on the second day. Their bowling was largely disciplined, but there was little they could do against two top-class batsmen. Kohli and Rahane never allowed Kane Williamson to set an organised field, scoring runs all around the ground.

Williamson, though, perhaps missed a trick in not persisting with bouncers to Rahane early in the day. The Mumbai batsman was clearly uncomfortable facing the awkward-height bouncers from Henry, but New Zealand dropped the plan too soon. Henry bowled only one over from that angle, and was soon taken off the attack. Neither he, nor the strategy, returned anytime soon.

Having survived no more than the odd tense moment, Guptill and Latham will resume battle on the third day, with a mountain of runs to climb thanks to India’s captain and his deputy.

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