India’s captain says pink ball Tests upend traditional batting and bowling tactics, and the team will have to adjust to that
Bowl to contain at the start and cash in once the ball starts to misbehave under lights. Bat freely during the day, and take a fresh guard and bat as if opening the innings when the lights come on. That’s what the experience of playing the day-night Test in Kolkata has taught Virat Kohli. He expects spinners and fast bowlers to both be in play even though the conditions underfoot are expected to assist spin bowling.
“The pink ball does tend to swing a lot more than the normal red ball that we play with,” Kohli said on the eve of the Ahmedabad Test. “We experienced that in the one match that we played in 2019 against Bangladesh. It is much more challenging to play the new pink ball regardless of the pitch you are playing on. Especially in the evening, say, as a batting team you are starting your innings in the evening under lights, then that one-and-a-half hours is very challenging. Yes, spin will come in for sure, but I don’t think the new ball and the fast bowlers can be ignored. The pink ball does bring them into the game till the ball is nice and shiny. Something we are very well aware of, and we are preparing accordingly.”
Kohli said the first session of the day was the easiest to bat in. “Last time we experienced that the first session is probably the nicest to bat,” Kohli said. “When the sun is out and the ball doesn’t do much. But when it starts to get dark, especially during that twilight period, it gets very tricky. The light changes. It is difficult to sight the ball. Then under lights it is like playing the first session in the morning in a normal Test match. The ball does tend to swing a lot. I think it is a reversal of roles and something you need to adjust to quite quickly as a batsman. Even though you might be quite set in the afternoon, you have to really take guard again and start from the scratch in the evening. And understand that you probably have to be more disciplined than you were in the day.
“Similarly with the bowlers. The plan in the afternoon was to bowl a nice and consistent line and length, and then in the evening when the situation allowed us to, we attacked a lot more. I think the same kind of template will be useful in this game as well.”
The day-night Test, though, has bigger implications. If India lose it, or the next, they can’t make it to the World Test Championship final. A day previously, Ishant Sharma spoke of how much that final meant to him, that as far as he, a one-format specialist, was concerned, it was the World Cup for him, and that it was imperative that he help India make the final. Kohli doesn’t want to think that far ahead.
“You can’t play for those kind of reasons [the qualification permutations],” Kohli said. “We are not looking to win one and draw one. We are looking to win both. For us these are two games of cricket, and the only thing we are focused on. What it does afterwards is a conversation for later. That is a reality not present right now. In the present moment we are preparing for tomorrow, ready for the grind for five days, wanting to win a Test match for India and then move on to the next one.
“One day at a time is something we have followed for years now. There is no point running far ahead into the future where you have no idea what’s going to happen. We are going to focus on what we can do as individuals in the present moment and let other people think of scenarios and what if and what if not.”
Nor is Kohli carrying any scars from India’s previous day-night Test, where they played excellent cricket for two days before being blown away in one session in which they were bowled out for 36. Similarly, England were bowled out for 58 in their previous day-night outing. Kohli said all that won’t matter in Ahmedabad.
“We are going to focus on what we can do as individuals in the present moment and let other people think of scenarios and what if and what if not.”
Virat Kohli on the WTC final prospects
“Both are bizarre experiences for two quality sides,” Kohli said. “If you ask England the same question that do you think you could be bowled out for 50 again, their answer will be no. Because you understand that on particular day, things are meant to happen a certain way and whatever you try to do, it is out of your control and nothing seems to go right. Exactly what happened to us in Adelaide.
“Barring that 45 minutes of bad cricket, we dominated that Test as well. We are confident of how we play the pink ball. Even in Australia, where the pitches were assisting their seamers, they were under the pump throughout the game. We understand that quite well. From the outside, things are not as detailed or as explained about what happens in the change room. But you understand exactly what went wrong that day and you brush it aside, which the team did beautifully in the Melbourne Test. These are experiences. Not a mental scar. Not a hindrance. Something you learn from and move ahead.”
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo