India vs New Zealand: Virat Kohli, Pujara find new angles at nets to tackle NZ bowlers

Unnikrishnan G


Christchurch, February 27: Hagley Oval is such a throwback. One of the newest cricketing venues in New Zealand, this ground is anything but modern in its appearance. There are no monstrous concrete structures circling the ground or bustle of a venue that is about to host a Test, the second match between India and New Zealand.

In fact, Hagley Oval is inside a 400-acre green hub, the Hagley Park, right at the centre of Christchurch. The life is serene, smooth and modest, a place seemingly so distant from struggle of any sorts. But here, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara need to play the come-up role.

Even considering the bull run of Rohit Sharma and Mayank Agarwal in 2019, a majority of India's Test wins were built around the proficiency of Kohli and Pujara since 2017. But they have fallen into their own rut of late. On this tour, Kohli has only one fifty - a 51 at Hamilton at the beginning. But he had made two recent hundreds against South Africa and Bangladesh at home - 254 not out and 136 at Pune and Kolkata respectively.

In some ways, it has made Kohli's lean run in this series all the more pronounced. In the case of Pujara, his last big knock came in January 2019 at Sydney and since then 12 innings have passed without him touching the three-figure mark, of course there were four fifties.

Most recently, he made twin 11 at Wellington, falling to Kyle Jamieson and Trent Boult. In the first innings, Pujara made 11 off 50 balls and his second 11 was even slower off 86 balls. He seemed to have trapped in a cramped space in the first Test without really having a way to affect a jail break.

But he did not look twitchy. In Kohli's case, it was different. It may not be a wise idea to read too much into body language, but the Indian skipper looked edgy on more than one occasion on this tour. Remember him shimmying down the track and hammering Tim Southee for a six so early on in his innings in the third ODI. Over-anxious?

Indeed, the credit goes to the New Zealand bowlers for drying up Kohli's avenues on this tour. Ajinkya Rahane offered a reason.

"I thought personally they (NZ bowlers) bowled really well. Pujara was trying his bit, and he was actually looking to score runs. But I think Boult, Southee and all their bowlers did not give away much. They used that angle really well in Wellington, bowling wide off the crease, changing their angles, bowling short balls. Their plan was clear as a bowling unit," said Rahane.

"As a team we need to figure it out how we are going to play in the middle. I think, we have to practice those angles," said Rahane.

Indeed, they did at nets. Fielding coach R Sridhar, pacers in the side and Raghavendra, the throwdown specialist of the Indian team, toiled that bit harder at nets on Thursday (February 27), giving the Indian batsmen, Kohli and Pujara in particular, a good work out. Often, they tried to recreate at nets the angles NZ pacers generated at the Basin Reserve and on a couple of occasions batsmen were found themselves in discomforting positions.

But that discomfort on a windy, cool afternoon at Hagley Ovel may end up giving answers for the Indian batsmen.

"I think it is important to trust ourselves and don't think too much about the first Test. I think it is all about going into the (second) Test match with a fresh mindset, be in the present. You have to come back stronger and play accordingly. You cannot doubt yourself as batsmen," said Rahane, another major figure in that intense net session.

Pulling up from a nothing situation is a narrative not too unfamiliar to them. Both Kohli and Pujara had tamed their personal monsters - be it the swing of James Anderson or a debilitating knee injury. Perhaps, an encore at the Hagley Oval.

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