'If I can stay for three hours, I can stay for three more'
Akash Chopra being bowled by a Brett Lee scorcher for a well-made 45
Just like his batting, Akash Chopra has a confidence that is not demonstrative. His batting is a mixture of careful consideration, precise and unfussy footwork, and unostentatious execution. While his more illustrious colleagues have hogged the headlines so far this series, Chopra, in only his first tour abroad, has worked tirelessly, and succeeded, in the job assigned to him. Defying the new ball, laying the bricks and paving the way. He has been India's quiet hero of the series so far.
"I have been given a job," Chopra says, "to play off the new ball and to occupy the crease." He has complied in outstanding manner. In no first innings so far has Rahul Dravid, who was a virtual opener on India's last tour to Australia, been dragged out of the dressing room before the tenth over, and thrice Chopra has blunted the Australians for more than three hours. He has been the anchor to Virender Sehwag's buccaneering strokeplay. Together, they have driven the Australians to distraction.
"They complement each other very well," concedes John Buchanan. "Chopra is somewhat limited in his strokeplay, but he has played well within himself. Sehwag is limitless in his strokeplay and presents a different kind of challenge. We know exactly how to bowl to the two of them, and we have stuck to our plans. But they have come up with some good performances in crucial times."
Though Chopra and Sehwag have been team-mates in the Delhi Ranji teams, they have rarely batted together in domestic cricket. While Chopra has forever been an opener, Sehwag has only opened for India. But they have an intrinsic understanding which is evident from the way they trust each other for singles. "Singles are a part of our strategy in the opening overs, when boundaries haven't been easy to come," Chopra says. "I know Veeru very well, we are very close friends, so it's easy to strike an understanding."
Chopra missed a good part of India's domestic season last year owing to a fractured finger, but managed to secure a place in the Indian side by performing in two trial matches against New Zealand. He prepared for the Australian tour by seeking advice from Sunil Gavaskar, Geoff Boycott and Mohinder Amarnath. "They told me to give the first hour to the bowler because the Kookaburra balls move more than the balls used in India. I have tried to do that."
If there's one worry about Chopra's batting, it's been his inability to build on his start and play an innings of substance. He was out to a brute of a delivery today, but his dismissal has often been caused by a lapse of concentration. Chopra isn't unduly worried, though. "This is a new level of cricket for me," he says, "the standard is much higher than what I have been used to. But I have coped quite well I think. I am sure that a big innings will come anytime now."
"If I can stay there for three hours, I am good enough to stay in for three more."
Sambit Bal, the editor of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine and Wisden Cricinfo in India, will be following the Indian team throughout this Test series.