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Feature

Scenes from India's training session - Kohli-Babar bromance, and intense nets in Dubai heat

The initial setting resembled a college adda before balls were repeatedly smashed out of the stadium

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
25-Aug-2022
File photo: Babar Azam-Virat Kohli bromance was once again on display in Dubai  •  ICC via Getty

File photo: Babar Azam-Virat Kohli bromance was once again on display in Dubai  •  ICC via Getty

There was an air of bristling energy around Virat Kohli. Within minutes of the Indian team arriving for their first training session for the Asia Cup, he sent the shutterbugs into a tizzy. His handshake with Babar Azam elicited full-blown discussions about cricket's latest bromance.
Rashid Khan, who had just wrapped up training with the Afghanistan team, quickly jogged up to greet Kohli and gave him a hug. Rashid then proceeded to banter with Pakistan vice-captain Mohammad Rizwan. Everyone laughed, and for a moment, the setting at the ICC Academy in Dubai - on a day that touched temperatures of 46°C by the afternoon - had changed to a college adda.
Men who compete fiercely on the field, punch the air and pop nerves in celebration, and give send-offs every now and then, were all mushy and brotherly. But once the Pakistan and Afghanistan teams dispersed, it was business as usual for the Indian team. From an adda, there was an air of intensity to everything they did.
KL Rahul, Deepak Hooda and Avesh Khan, all of whom linked up with the squad from Zimbabwe on Tuesday evening, were given a day off, while Rishabh Pant didn't train. The remaining 11 players in the squad went full tilt under the supervision of stand-in coach VVS Laxman. The squad was also assisted by two net bowlers: Punjab's left-arm spinner Harpreet Brar and Delhi's left-arm pacer Siddhant Sharma.
The players indulged in a bit of warm-up football and a light jog around the ground before they got ready for a net session that lasted close to two and a half hours. Just minutes before the start of the training session, the team's throwdown experts carefully examined every inch of the 22-yard practice strip by hurling down deliveries at different lengths to check for consistency in bounce. Once the green signal was given, it was all systems go.
Kohli came bounding out of the shed first, armed with three bats, and immediately set the ball rolling against spinners with a series of big hits in the "V". R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Yuzvendra Chahal all challenged him by setting imaginary fields, but Kohli was willing himself to take them on.
He was beaten off his very first ball by Ashwin's drifter, but quickly put that behind him to stretch his front foot out to the maximum extent possible and made a sweet connection multiple times to send the ball into the basketball court and the adjacent ground.
Kohli hit Chahal inside-out over covers as well, as if to show he wasn't just keen on hitting down the ground. Towards the end of his session against spin, he even attempted the reverse paddle and switch hit, albeit with less success.
Then it was time to take on pace. Enter Arshdeep Singh, the 23-year-old who has quietly risen to become a key member of the pace pack in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel. Arshdeep started with a short ball that Kohli duly ducked under, muttering words of encouragement to his younger colleague, and then proceeded to tread with caution.
All told, Arshdeep was mightily impressive. Fourth stump and around a good length, from where he got certain deliveries to hold their line and others to nip back. On the rare occasion when Kohli missed the length, he consulted Laxman, took a new guard and carried on, until he saw Rohit Sharma walk out to bat. Thirty-five minutes of batting with intensity of the highest order then gave way to some laughs as he made way for his captain.
Unlike Kohli, Rohit was all too happy to just feel his way in and not play shots straightaway. He was cut into half by Arshdeep's nipbacker first ball, eliciting a "bowled, yaar". There was a fair bit of rust, which he shed in style by stepping out to flat-bat Chahal ten minutes into his session.
Rohit loves playing spinners by getting to the pitch of the ball, but not necessarily by stepping out. Watching him use a strong forward press to get to the pitch before his wrists took over and hit the ball between long-off and deep extra cover was a treat. When the spinners shortened their lengths, he used the depth of the crease to readjust. Unlike Kohli, Rohit's trademark strokes of the evening were the many variations of the sweep.
As Rohit slowly amped up his intensity, camerapersons at the venue were in a fix. The Indian captain was just hitting top gear, while Kohli, who had just batted with match-like intensity, started doing timed sprints behind the nets. Once he completed his sprints and cooled down, he sat beside the boundary to have a chat with Paddy Upton, India's mental conditioning coach.
Unlike Kohli, Rohit's session was shorter and was over when he felt good. Suryakumar Yadav and Dinesh Karthik then took over. Suryakumar batted in his typical 360-degree manner, swatting length balls to long-on, scooping short-of-length deliveries over the wicketkeeper, and ramping short deliveries on the stumps over the cordon.
Karthik, meanwhile, reverse-ramped Arshdeep, and played the walk-across slog sweep to full, wide deliveries from Bhuvneshwar Kumar. It was carnage for the next half hour, with balls repeatedly tossed into the adjacent ground against the night sky. The session ended with more of the same from Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja.
As India wrapped up what was meant to be a light session, this much was clear: the intent with the bat they've often spoken about of late is something they are keen on pushing to its limit. And in trying to do so from ball one, they are perhaps looking to shed the safety-first mindset that had cost them at the T20 World Cup last year.
India are expected to train every day until Saturday, leading up to their Asia Cup opener against Pakistan on August 28.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo