Ishant Sharma vs Virat Kohli. Two balls, one after the other - except this was in the nets, and there was a ball each from Mohammed Shami, Navdeep Saini and Jasprit Bumrah in between.

They still felt like successive deliveries, though, part of a larger pattern.

To the first, Kohli got on the front foot, and aimed a drive towards mid-off. The ball swung in, beat the inside edge, and hit the front pad at knee-roll height. The very spot Jason Gillespie told Sharma to aim at, back in 2018, when he was wondering how to bowl a fuller length without losing his pace and bite.

And then, after Shami, Saini and Bumrah, came a delivery of similar line but slightly shorter length - by about six inches or so. Kohli went on the front foot again, looking to defend, and the ball straightened off the seam, all the while rising steeply, and spat past the shoulder of his bat.

Almost exactly a month ago, Sharma had turned around to appeal for an lbw in a Ranji Trophy match in Delhi, and in doing so had twisted his right ankle and hobbled off the field. Scans revealed a grade-three tear. These usually take at least six weeks to recover, but here we were, a month on from the injury, watching Sharma bowl in the nets, to one of the world's best batsmen, and go past both his edges, one after the other.

"He looked pretty normal like before, I mean before he got injured," Kohli said after India's practice session. "Pretty similar to how he was bowling before the ankle injury, and he was hitting good areas. Obviously he has got plenty of experience. He has played in New Zealand a couple of times before, and definitely his experience will be something that will be useful in the series. Really good to see him bowling with pace and in good areas."

Bowling with pace, bowling in good areas, and all that for a pretty long time. Sharma bowled uninterrupted for around an hour and a half on Wednesday, mostly to the middle-order trio of Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari. This was the most encouraging sight India could have hoped to see two days before the first Test in Wellington.

There was little let-up in Sharma's intensity even towards the end of his nets stint, and he looked, at least from the periphery of the nets, ready to take on a Test-match workload. India's team management, of course, will monitor him far more closely: how he got through this session, how quickly he recovers, how he bowls - if he does - in training on Thursday, and so forth.

If he ends up ticking all the boxes by Friday morning, India would be thrilled. In some ways, Sharma could almost be their most important player on this tour; he is bowling better than he ever has, and has reached a level of control over his craft where he can put all the learnings from his previous tours - he has taken 23 wickets at 30.91 in New Zealand, in five Tests spread over two tours when he was a far less refined version of himself - to good use in the middle.

Conditions in New Zealand are almost unique in world cricket. It's one of the few places where teams winning the toss might bowl first rather than bat, and where the pitches get better to bat on during the second innings. It's also perhaps the windiest place to play Test cricket in, Wellington in particular. Having Sharma's experience will help India not just from his end but when the other quicks bowl too. That's apart from the most obvious benefit of having Sharma, which is that he is now a bloody good bowler.

If he isn't quite fit enough to start, India will have a bit of a decision to make over who plays instead of him. Bumrah and Shami will start, of course, and Umesh Yadav is the senior back-up option. On Wednesday, however, Saini bowled in the nets for a considerable length of time, mostly to the top and middle order, while Yadav only came on later, when the main batsmen were done having their hit.

There's little doubt over Yadav's value as a wicket-taking force in Indian conditions, where he bowls in short, intense bursts and attacks the stumps relentlessly. But he hasn't been the same force overseas - and he hasn't really had a run of games to become that force - where he would have to play a different role, bowling for the outside edge, bowling longer spells, teaming up with the bowler at the other end to create the kind of pressure that leads to an injudicious shot.

Saini is a different kind of bowler to Yadav, just as quick, but more back of a length, not as slingy, relying on seam rather than swing, and by nature likelier to benefit from the extra bounce of pitches outside Asia. He has never played Test cricket, however, and throwing him in for the first Test of an away tour may not be the ideal way of bringing him into the fold.

It won't be an easy decision, and India will hope they won't need to make it.