India batting coach Vikram Rathour didn’t offer too many clues into India’s potential playing eleven for its ICC World Cup 2023 match against Afghanistan on Wednesday.
However, after he relentlessly sent throwdowns to Suryakumar Yadav during India’s optional two-hour net session on match eve at the Arun Jaitley Stadium, he may have had some ideas.
India’s batting pantheon is such that even with local boy Virat Kohli and KL Rahul, the saviours at Chennai against the mighty Aussies, opting out of the session, it was tough for the eye to zero in on a particular practice strip.
And yet, with Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja and Shreyas Iyer batting in tandem on adjacent pitches, it was Suryakumar, yet to make his World Cup debut, who was the cynosure of all eyes.
The only constant throughout the two-hour session, Suryakumar faced a combination of throwdowns from Rathour, throwdown specialist Raghu and left-arm spinners. He stepped out with ease, sized up the length early and middled the ball with unerring consistency.
The T20 talisman, who is yet to fully his translate his genius in the shortest format into consistency in 50-over cricket, played some solid straight punches, like those that were the hallmark of his match-winning fifty against Australia in Mohali last month.
He was awarded some freedom towards the end of the session as he scooped a fuller delivery behind only for Rathour to remark, “That was not a six.”
Head coach Rahul Dravid came to Suryakumar’s defense quickly and chuckled, “It is Delhi,” referring to the short boundaries on offer at the venue.
Even net bowler Vikas Tomar, who maintained a consistent line and length with his right-arm medium pace, sheepishly said, “I think SKY,” when asked about who he felt was the best batter on the day. However, his disappointment of not getting to bowl to Kohli was more emphatic.
Rohit, one of the victims of India’s early meltdown against Australia, was rapped on the front pad on a couple of occasions by both right and left-arm seam bowlers, who shaped the ball in. However, he redeemed himself by drilling the half-volleys down the ground and wrapped up his session with a wristy flick, his back leg dancing in the air, that would have gone for six.
Shreyas struggled with length deliveries, similar to the one he had chipped to short-cover against Australia and played some ungainly swipes across the line of the stumps. There was roar of appreciation and relief from the media assembled at the site when he crisply swivelled and pulled two short deliveries. However, he handed a return catch off a leading edge to a net bowler and top-edged a pull to an imaginary mid-on off Shardul Thakur, who raised his finger in celebration.
Ishan Kishan, who had to face the ignominy of becoming the first Indian opener to fall for a golden duck in India’s campaign opener, had a rough day. He continued to edge the ball off the pacers and didn’t look comfortable against the spinners either, often getting an inside edge while trying to cut or dab behind. A groan of frustration towards the end of the session summed up his day even as Rathour gave him a reassuring pat on the cheek.
With other bowlers in the Indian squad giving the session a miss, Thakur was the only one who rolled his arm over and was the last one to take a hit in the nets.
There was a tinge of green on the practice pitches, similar to that on the main strip at the ground, and India could opt for the horse for courses route and hand Thakur his World Cup debut.
Tuesday’s net session was about making amends after India’s shambolic start with the bat against Australia threatened to throw its campaign into jeopardy.
The loss of three wickets for two runs against Australia would have hit a prescient note with Rohit, who had said he wanted the team to prepare for ‘10 for 3’ situations shortly after becoming white-ball captain in 2021. If Dravid’s relieved clap when Suryakumar, Shreyas and Ishan middled the ball simultaneously was anything go by, India isn’t hoping for any such ‘test of character’ when Afghanistan comes calling.
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