Virat Kohli: 'Certainly felt like we were on top in the game'
India captain hints at continuing with current template of four seamers and a spinner
India were looking forward to having a good crack at the remaining 157 runs needed to cross the line to win the first Test, Virat Kohli said at the end of the Trent bridge stalemate. He also said that he felt India had batted with intent on the fourth evening, attacked with the ball all along, and set markers for the rest of five-match series. And, that the XI picked for the first Test could well "be a template going ahead in the series", though calls would be taken based on conditions.
Chasing 209, India started solidly courtesy KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma. This seemed to rub off on Cheteshwar Pujara, who signed off the penultimate day with a square-driven boundary off Stuart Broad. It wasn't just Pujara showing intent, it was also a mark of confidence from the Indian top order, which had shown courage, good technique, and solid mindset to tackle the most difficult batting conditions - the final hour (as it turned out) of this rain-affected, but absorbing Test, where nearly two days were lost to rain.
"We were expecting rain on day three and four, but it chooses to arrive on day five," Kohli told the broadcasters after the final day's play was called off late afternoon on Sunday. "We thought we were in a good position to have a crack at the target. This is exactly what we wanted to do: we wanted to start strong.
"Heading to day five, we had our chances right in front of us. One good partnership and then you know what happens when there's only 150 on the board to defend. We certainly felt like we are on top of the game. We bowled well enough and batted well enough to stay in the contest and then getting that lead was crucial which kept us on top throughout the game."
India had been dealt a blow two days before the Test after Mayank Agarwal - the preferred opener in Shubman Gill's absence - was ruled out because of concussion. Rahul, who stepped in as replacement, did not show at any stage that he had not been considered Test-cricket material since August 2019.
Rahul, in the company of Sharma, who was opening for the first time in England, was impressive as he kept India in the game on the second day with his innings of 84. Not just the runs, but Rahul kept the Indian dressing calm despite failures of Pujara, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane.
India needed that assured start again on an overcast Saturday evening when James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ollie Robinson steamed in under lights. India still ended the day at 52 for 1. Rahul the only batter to fall. Kohli agreed that it was a vital phase of play that India had won.
"And to get to 50 overnight is a big positive for us. It wasn't about survival; it was about getting the boundaries where the opportunity presented itself," he said. "Our intent is what kept us ahead in the game. Even today the start would have been the same."
But the fact that India took a 95-run first-innings lead was not all Rahul's doing. The credit for that belonged to Ravindra Jadeja, who scored 56, and then Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj added 46 more after he was dismissed.
"It's a hard work of three-odd weeks now," Kohli said of the last three. "They have been in the nets regularly, wanting to contribute regularly, wanting to contribute to the team. Getting 50-plus runs from those three bowlers was like gold dust for us - we would have been talking about a lead of 40-odd and then we got to a lead of 95 purely because of their efforts.
"Just the grit and determination… you know, as opposition, when the bowlers gets runs it can be annoying."
The lack of runs from the bottom order has been an issue for India, and a prime reason for India to tinker with the team combination.
In the World Test Championship final, in June against New Zealand, India had fielded two spinners in R Ashwin and Jadeja to have more batting depth. For this Test, they dropped Ashwin, and brought in Shardul Thakur, who had played a winning hand with both ball and bat during the triumph in Brisbane against Australia in January.
While he didn't contribute with the bat, Thakur grabbed four wickets in the Test, key ones at that.
Asked whether India would persist with a similar template of five bowlers including one spinner for the remainder of the series, Kohli said it was a possibility. "Most likely it will be a template going ahead in the series, but again, adaptability has been a strength of ours as well," he said. "This looks like the right template for us moving forward."
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo