“Look, you did perfectly the last few dances without thinking about it or my having to mention it.” It was the happiest that Virat Kohli had sounded during the hour and a quarter spent on the networks at SCG on Friday (December 11). For almost 30-35 minutes of that stay, he had focused his energies completely on Mayank Agarwal.
The first test match had been cheaply ruled out in India’s first inning of the warm-up game about half an hour before joining the practice session. Once Kohli finished his own stint, he took on the role of Agarwal’s personal hitting coach and mentor. And here, when the right-hander began to put into play all the advice he had heard, which too subconsciously as Kohli would exclaim, his captain was not only radiant, he also seemed very satisfied with the efforts of both.
Agarwal had endured a torrid spell on the webs against a charged Jasprit Bumrah and a fiery Raghu, fresh from a long quarantine, last week at Drummoyne Oval. There he got a head start by lifting some deliveries off his stump, and subsequently berated himself with some of the best words.
The way he had dealt with them was very similar to the way he had taunted Sean Abbott’s upward delivery here at SCG with a very cool pink ball. He was almost chest level when she decided to make contact with him, causing her to slip into an awkward position and offer the notch on the first slide. And Kohli seemed to have taken the initiative to help his starter rectify his recurring mistake.
The crash course began with a demonstration from the captain on what Agarwal should look like to raise his hands as he tried to leave these deliveries with an additional bounce alone. He seemed to suggest that by doing so he would eliminate any chance of being pushed to a late hit, as is the case with many foreign hitters as they try to deal with the extra rebound on most Australian pitches. Not forgetting that it would also automatically help him finish in a more frontal position, dragging him even further from the ball line.
This talk, the first of the lot, lasted about 10 minutes before Agarwal returned to the networks. Kohli moved closer to the farthest net, two from where his opener was, to observe from the side not only where Agarwal’s hands were but also what his feet were doing. Takedown specialists from India began to pepper Agarwal with short deliveries around where the fifth or sixth stump would have been.
Kohli seemed to need only a handful of deliveries to notice a discrepancy. “Feel the toe lift,” he told Agarwal, noting that on occasion the right-hander’s rear leg was in the air or in motion while defending these specifically targeted deliveries. It meant that in addition to not being fully balanced, he also naturally felt the ball with his hands, resulting in edge.
Kohli’s suggestion seemed to be based more on getting Agarwal to focus on firmer front foot pressure as a trigger movement – taking the old boxer stance, as the late Dean Jones liked to call it. That would result in the batter being in a stronger position to move forward or backward depending on the length of the pitch, and it will also ensure that the back point does not lift. There were more demonstrations before Kohli suggested to Agarwal that he would throw some balls at him just to see if the setting could work for him.
The takedown specialists continued to fire with Kohli watching from behind the stump at the player’s end. There was also a suggestion to see if Agarwal could open a bit to make sure both eyes were looking at the bowler, giving him a better view of the ball, from the moment it is released until it lands on the field.
He then tossed a few balls to Agarwal, continually praising his senior starting hitter for working on the slight alteration in technique. And it was after the seventh or eighth takedown that he expressed his satisfaction. “You want a little more,” Kohli asked, but Agarwal also seemed much more comfortable after his nearly 50-minute session. The two of them then went off-line for another discussion, which seemed more like a review of everything they had discussed. So engrossed were they, with Kohli’s shadow repeatedly practicing his blades, that R Ashwin, who replaced Agarwal at the net, had to shout twice to get them out of his line of sight behind the player’s arm. Agarwal then walked off followed about five minutes later by Kohli, both men apparently happy with the night’s work.
Kohli along with Cheteshwar Pujara, who did not hit the net on Friday, had opted out of India’s second preparation match. Instead, he preferred to acclimatize with the pink ball in the nets. The four senior coaches had accompanied him. In fact, Ravi Shastri was placed just behind the captain for the first 10 minutes of his net. And the conversation between the two and hitting coach Vikram Rathour was all about head position, with Kohli asking coaches to inform him if his head ever fell off. However, Shastri and Bharat Arun had to leave the networking session prematurely and return to the locker room when news came that the Indian line-up had collapsed and that they had been downgraded to 6/111.
Kohli seemed more or less comfortable in front of everyone present. The only pitcher who gave him trouble was T Natarajan, who, like Shardul Thakur, Kartik Tyagi and Washington Sundar, has been retained as a net pitcher. The left arm twice beat Kohli’s outer edge and also slammed into his pads with a sliding throw. Kohli was a lot of praise for finding India on the Australian tour as well, but also advised him to change his length when Natarajan trotted three that were a bit too short.
Kohli also recognized the lines and lengths of Kuldeep Yadav, but felt that the rotating wrist of the left arm might try to launch a little faster in the air. He also took some time to explain to Sundar, whose role will primarily be to replicate Nathan Lyon’s challenge on the nets, the benefits of throwing the off counter closer to the off the stump and thus creating an opportunity to make that the ball spin. the space between the bat and the pad of the right-hander.
Kohli enjoyed his fight with Thakur, even teasing him for not being able to camouflage a slower delivery on his pads well enough. That was the final delivery he faced on the fast pitcher net, who pitched with ease. He would have spent about 15 minutes against the spinners on the far net before ending his personal session. Kohli, you might think, would like to have one more session on the SCG networks in the next few days. But the most important preparation for him would be the only session under lights that has been scheduled for the visitors at the Adelaide Oval, the night before the first test.
However, Agarwal has another chance on Saturday (December 12) to take the learnings from the nets and put them to use against the pink ball in the middle. No matter how well you do, there will be a viewer who is very enthusiastic and interested in Indian costumes. And Kohli will expect him to put his hands and feet in the best positions, “without thinking and without anyone having to mention it.”