North Sound (Antigua):
Virat Kohli continued his sublime form to ease to a 12th hundred and lead India to 302 for four on day one of the first Test against the West Indies. Kohli (143 batting) led from the front to lay a solid platform for his team with the other major contribution coming from opener Shikhar Dhawan (84).
The Indian captain, who also crossed the 3000-run mark in his 42nd Test, had the support of Ravichandran Ashwin (22 batting) at close of play as the two shared an unbeaten 66-run stand.
The away side had a rather quiet first session where it managed 72 for one in 27 overs before Kohli arrived at the crease and stepped up the tempo. By stumps, India had a decent run rate of 3.35 runs per over.
The pitch was flat and the West Indies bowling lacked depth to trouble the visitors who found it tough early on after Kohli opted to bat.
Starting at 65 after tea, Kohli put on 57 runs with Ajinkya Rahane (22) as the duo looked to build after losing both Dhawan and Cheteshwar Pujara (16) in the second session of play. Rahane was nearly dismissed cheaply, for 5 runs, as Shannon Gabriel (1-43) induced an edge that fell short of slips. But thereafter the vice-captain tightened up his game and didn’t give another chance until his eventual dismissal.
In the meantime, the duo kept the run-rate flowing, bringing up the 200-mark in the 61st over. Then, five overs later, they brought up their 50-partnership, coming off only 65 balls. Kohli was looking particularly good in this period, as cover drives and on-drives started booming off his blade.
Perhaps Carlos Brathwaite (0-46) was the only bowled who troubled him a bit, but even was not able to create a straightforward wicket-taking opportunity.
Just as they were looking good, Rahane was dismissed, a loose stroke off Devendra Bishoo (3-108) lobbing up and he was caught at midwicket. It was yet another loose dismissal for India, with only Murali Vijay (7) getting out to a good delivery earlier in the morning.
Thereafter, with 22 overs remaining in the day’s play, it was surprising to see Ashwin come out to bat ahead of Wriddhiman Saha.
But he did an immaculate job, including some silken drives down the ground, and the two batsmen stayed unbeaten until the end of play, bringing up the 300-mark in the 88th over. Kohli and Ashwin’s stand partnership rescued India from what looked like a disappointing first outing for the five top-order batsmen theory.
Earlier, Dhawan scored his third Test half-century and put on 105 runs with Kohli to help ease the pressure after lunch.
Pujara had done all the hard work in the first session, seeing off shine of the ball and looked to attack against the slower bowlers. But he was too eager to get going in this second session and threw away his hard work almost immediately as play began, playing too early against Bishoo and simply lobbing the ball to point for an easy catch.
The Indian skipper smacked another five boundaries in his fifty that he reached off just 75 balls. Bishoo was erratic in his line and length, not helped perhaps by the left-right combination at the crease and runs flowed easily.
Kohli and Dhawan brought up their 50-partnership in the 41st over and the 100-mark in the 53rd over, as the next fifty runs came off just 12 overs. Just as they looked comfortable enough to go into the tea break, the leg-spinner trapped Dhawan in front of the wicket and got the breakthrough West Indies wanted.
In the morning, India were subjected to some testing spells in the first session after they had won the toss and elected to bat. Left-arm Ravindra Jadeja was left out with the think tank opting to go in with three pacers instead. Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami joined Ishant Sharma in the pace department, while Ashwin and Amit Mishra are the spin options.
The West Indies handed a debut to Roston Chase, picking seven full-time batsmen, and left out fast bowler Miguel Cummins.
Vijay and Dhawan started off then, with Gabriel and skipper Jason Holder (0/41) starting the proceedings for the hosts. The West Indies had come out with a clear ploy and made good use of the new ball on a fresh first morning pitch.
Holder was the first one to test Dhawan with a short ball, and soon it became clear what plans they had set for the left-handed opener.
Soon after, Gabriel worked up his pace and started bowling some testing deliveries to Dhawan. Meanwhile, Vijay looked comfortable at the crease, leaving as many deliveries as possible. And it was surprisingly good bounce that got him, as he looked to play at one outside the off stump, only for the ball to kiss his glove and loop up to second slip where Kraigg Brathwaite (0-4) caught it at after a little fiddling.
Pujara then came out to bat at number three, and never looked in any discomfort. That was particularly because West Indies decided to bring on debutant Chase (0/54) to bowl in the 12th over. His gentle off-breaks didn’t pose much threat to the batsmen, and Pujara in particular to attack him. But he was given good cover to block off the drives and didn’t bleed too many runs.
The 50-mark came up for India in the 24th over, and Dhawan-Pujara brought up the 50-partnership for the second wicket off 118 balls, just before the lunch break.