Rohit and Kohli frustrate Australians
Rohit Sharma, dropped from India's squad for the Tests, and Virat Kohli proved they have the patience to play long innings, scoring 105 each to give their team the honours on the first day of the tour match in Hyderabad. Facing their first stern test of the tour, and a flat track, the Australian spinners suffered heavy punishment after the fast bowlers had reduced the Board President's XI to 59 for 3.
Rohit was, without doubt, the star of the day. Two shots showcased his intent. The first came when he was on 67; a long-on had materialised for the offspinner Jason Krejza after Rohit had lofted him over the infield a couple of times. Rohit responded by waltzing down the track to swing the ball over the fielder's head. The second challenge came on 99. Michael Clarke put on the pressure by firing a few dot balls outside leg stump from over the wicket. Rohit shuffled outside leg and punched it sweetly to the right of mid-off. No violence, just a confident move to get outside the line and find the gap.
Rohit took 13 balls before choosing a wide full toss from Krejza to get off the mark, and took a further 33 balls to unfurl his signature cover drive off Peter Siddle. He rushed past his fifty in a Stuart Clark over where he picked up 14 runs with two square cuts and a nonchalant six over long-on. Ricky Ponting immediately attacked with Brett Lee, and Rohit defended. Lee almost broke the stalemate with a lovely slower one that induced a checked drive from Rohit, but the bowler couldn't hold on despite a lunging effort. When Lee was taken off, Rohit indulged himself against Krejza and Clarke.
At the other end, Kohli moved along almost unnoticed. In his last game, the Irani Cup, Zaheer Khan had harassed him by bending back full-length deliveries in the second innings after troubling him with bouncers in the first. In light of that fact, Kohli had it relatively easy today. He crept to 14 from 36 balls against the seamers before hitting his stride against Krejza and Clarke. He created his own length against the slow men - 68 of his runs came against them - by using his feet, and feasted whenever any bowler, seam or spin, erred in line. He played his trademark whips through midwicket, scoring 36 runs in that region, and picked up 35 off cut shots.
The wagon wheel also told the tale of Australia's bowling. Krejza and Clarke were, unsurprisingly, without guile, turn or bite, and erred in line and length as well. Krejza was initially guilty of bowling too full and lost the plot after getting the stick from Rohit and Kohli.
The seamers were deployed in a manner that confirmed Ponting's stated intent of using the game as preparation for the sterner test ahead. Lee bowled only 33 balls against Rohit and Kohli, and Clarke had three balls more at them, while Mitchell Johnson, the man under the most pressure to stake his Test claim, bowled 62 balls against the rampaging pair.
Lee was his typical self, bowling with pace in the right areas, and terminated Kohli's stay with a toe-crushing yorker - though it would probably have missed leg stump. Clark, though, didn't perform at his optimum level. Admittedly the pitch was not conducive to seam bowling, but he didn't use the old ball well. While Lee mixed in the slower ones, and even Johnson bowled a slow lifting delivery to get rid of Yuvraj Singh, Clark didn't revel once the shine went off the ball.
The other seamer, Siddle, did what was expected of him. Barring a few times when he was guilty of bowling short, and cut away by Yuvraj and Rohit, Siddle tried to hit the length. He picked up S Badrinath's wicket with a marginal decision: the ball appeared to be missing leg stump.
Johnson had already gone on record with his intent to forget conventional swing and to just stick to "trying to get it through to the keeper". Unable to bend the ball back in to the right-handers, he bowled fast and straight and punctuated it with short ones. He was perhaps a touch lucky to end up with three wickets. Aakash Chopra was given out lbw when the ball appeared to be missing off stump, Yuvraj was caught in two minds - to pull or not to pull - and Rohit pulled weakly to square leg. But it was a reward for sticking to his original plan of bowling within his limitations.
A few Australian strategies did emerge by the end of the day. The stated ploy of setting defensive fields for the Test series was put into operation. A deep point was in place for the seamers for the most part, and a long-on and sweeper cover were stationed for the spinners. Australia showed they had done their homework as well. Two men stood in the deep behind square leg for Wasim Jaffer, who eventually top-edged a hook, and a leg slip materialised for Chopra, who has a penchant to shuffle and tickle short deliveries to fine leg.
It worked like a charm in the pre-lunch session before two young batsmen decided to stamp their presence on the proceedings. And how.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo