Virat Kohli, Vijay Shankar polish strokeplay at nets

Ahead of the World Cup match against West Indies at Old Trafford, Virat Kohli and Co. took to the indoor nets to fine-tune skills.

India captain Virat Kohli prepares to bat in the indoor nets at Old Trafford in Manchester on Tuesday.   -  AP

A historical day steeped in awe and nostalgia, dawned to the accompaniment of rain at Manchester. Kapil Dev holding aloft the Prudential World Cup on June 25, 36 years ago at Lord’s, has shimmered forever in the collective memory of all Indians. The remembrance gives a huge fillip to the good old days of a generation that grew up in the 1980s.

But there was nothing heartening from a sporting point of view here on Tuesday. The constant drizzle moisturised red-bricked walls, tiled roofs, swaying trees, hurriedly opened umbrellas and wretchedly for cricket, the turf at Old Trafford with its covered pitch, lush-green outfield and five pigeons looking for worms.

Understandably the Indian team cancelled its scheduled practice stint and instead opted for a round of optional nets at the indoor facility with its massive black and white picture of Wasim Akram, who played for home county Lancashire, near the entrance. The Pakistani great is snapped up side-on in his final delivery stride, about to unleash aesthetic violence with the red cherry.

Virat Kohli in action at the Old Trafford indoor nets.   -  AFP

 

Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ravindra Jadeja and Vijay Shankar turned up and among the support staff, Ravi Shastri kept a sharp eye. The coach is the lone link that the Men in Blue have with Kapil’s Devils. Shastri was part of the 1983 squad and played in five games. Incidentally, he featured in the preliminary clash against the West Indies here at Old Trafford. His left-arm spin garnered three wickets and that with a similar effort from seamer Roger Binny, helped India stun the defending champion by 34 runs.

Vijay Shankar in conversation with head coach Ravi Shastri (right).   -  AP

 

Since then the Mumbaikar evolved over many summers, donned various roles, most of them linked to commentary and finally occupied the coach’s chair. Older and with a broader midriff and slower gait, Shastri remains very much in the thick of things. His gaze was on Kohli as the Indian captain had an extended hit in the three nets — two bowling machines and one for throw-downs.

Shastri observed Kohli’s shoulder-alignment while the batsman unfurled a volley of strokes. A straight drive issued like a gun-shot had everyone scrambling and yelling, ‘watch it’. Later, sweeps, paddle and conventional, were finessed and Kohli displayed twinkle-toes too while essaying lofted shots.

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Interestingly, Bhuvneshwar, who is recovering from a hamstring strain, bowled briefly. The medium-pacer had missed last Saturday’s game against Afghanistan at Southampton, and is on the road to recovery. The selectors including chairman M.S.K. Prasad, Gagan Khoda and Jatin Paranjpe were present. Paranjpe manned the bowling machine when Jadeja kept hoisting with abandon, one such effort cannoned into the roof’s mesh and forced the scribes, watching from their balcony tier, to instinctively duck.

Aggressive intent seemed to be the morning’s theme as Shankar worked on his pull and hook while batting coach Sanjay Bangar stood close and with a racquet slammed tennis balls at the batsman’s head. The all-rounder either swayed or pulled with panache. As the session concluded, Bangar’s son Aryan wheeled in his left-arm spin and bowling coach Bharat Arun offered tips.

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Meanwhile, the wet weather outside was the kind that made the heart yearn for hot chocolate. Thankfully, there is some good news as the forecast for Thursday, when India takes on the West Indies, is sunny.

Much water has flowed down the Thames since Kapil’s men defeated the mighty West Indies in an unforgettable final and as India progresses in the World Cup’s latest edition, form and fortunes have changed over the last three decades. Kohli’s men remain on the ascendant while the West Indies desperately needs a win to nourish its fragile hopes of staying alive in the championship. Time flies, things change.