Net-work of No.1s: Kohli vs Bumrah
Match before a match. Virat Kohli vs Jasprit Bumrah. The world’s No.1 batsman versus the top-ranked bowler in one-day cricket. Sounds odd but that is how the contest unfolded during India’s nets at the Wankhede on Monday.
There was no show of mercy and the battle was as fiery and passionate as witnessed in a match situation. The Indian captain batted with poise and grandeur never flinching in the face of pace or the short deliveries. There were a few vicious shots square of the wicket.
Virat remained unconquered and as he moved over to the adjoining nets, where the spinners were bowling, after another “intense” session, he raised his bat in delight. Even an hour later, he couldn’t withhold his satisfaction.
“Bumrah has been playing for the last four years now and this is probably the second time ever that I have got out (of) the nets, hitting a few against him and not getting out. The first one was in Adelaide, before the Test in 2018,” Virat said.
“I’m glad that was the last ball of my net session because he ran back to his mark but I got out of the nets. It’s a fun sort of competition.”
Virat though didn’t stop there, not forgetting to mention his admiration for Bumrah’s skill and tenacity.
“According to me, he’s the most skilful bowler in the world in any format of the game. To play against him... he brings match intensity in the nets, I can assure you that.
“He’s not shy of hitting us on the head or targeting our ribs every now and then. He’s a proper, proper bowler and it’s always nice to play against the best in the nets. I challenge myself to play well against him, not every day do you get to hit boundaries off Jasprit… Today was one, so I’m very happy.”
Having made a comeback in the T20I series versus Sri Lanka, Bumrah will face the test against the David Warners and the Steve Smiths in the three-match ODI series. How he holds up in what Virat called the “battle between probably the top two sides, as far as the balance is concerned”, could determine the team composition in the forthcoming tour of New Zealand.
More than the bowling, where it is more or less certain that Mohammed Shami will partner Bumrah along with a third pacer in Navdeep Saini or Shardul Thakur, it is the top-order that poses a conundrum for the team management.
Rohit Sharma is back after a brief rest but Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul have been in fine form. Virat hinted including all three in the XI could be a “possibility”.
Playing all three will push Virat to No.4 and Shreyas Iyer to No.5. That will mean no place for Kedar Jadhav as Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja are expected to keep their places in this format.
Virat was open to any change in his batting position. “Yeah, big possibility, very happy to (change my batting position),” he said. “I’m not possessive about where I play and I’m not insecure about where I bat.”
The Aussies will take confidence from their comeback 3-2 series win here last year on their return to the ODI fold after an unsuccessful World Cup campaign.
The team has since seen a massive transformation. Besides the return of Warner and Smith, the batting has also been bolstered by the addition of run-machine Marnus Labuschagne.
Labuschagne’s record-breaking Test summer netted him 896 runs at 112 and will be looking to transform some of it into the one-day arena. If Labuschagne makes his debut, he will bat at No.4, with Smith going back to the No.3 spot.
With the “big three” of Australia’s Test attack — Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood — back together, Aaron Finch will be hoping for early breakthroughs in the battle of the equals.
But given the short boundaries at the Wankhede and the plethora of big hitters on both sides, expect another high-scoring game.