NORTH SOUND, ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA: Virat Kohli stroked a commanding 12th Test century to put India in control at 302 for four when stumps were drawn on the opening day of the first Test against the West Indies on Thursday.
Having chosen to bat first on winning the toss, the Indian captain led the way with a thoroughly authoritative innings of 143 not out, decorated with 16 fours that has so far occupied just over four hours off 197 deliveries.
He put on 105 for the third wicket with Shikhar Dhawan, the opening batsman missing out on a three-figure innings of his own when he fell lbw for 84 sweeping at Devendra Bishoo on the stroke of the tea interval.
Bishoo’s mixture of leg-breaks and googlies were the greatest threat to the Indians throughout a long, tiring day for the home side at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, although his three wickets were more the result of poor shot-selection by Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane.
He ended the day with figures of three for 108 off 27 overs.
Surprisingly, he was not called upon by his captain, Jason Holder, in the first period of play, when even debutant batsman and part-time off-spinner Roston Chase delivered eight overs.
However, his dismissal of Pujara via a horribly miscued pull in the first over after lunch ushered in Kohli, who proceeded to transform the rest of the day into a testament to his ever-increasing stature as a batsman of the highest class.
In stark contrast, the usually destructive Dhawan was content to play the supporting role.
Famed for his adventurous attacking instincts in all forms of the game, the left-handed opening batsman displayed admirable restraint in the early exchanges against bowling that lacked any real pace and potency, with the notable exception of Shannon Gabriel, who caused alarms for the Indian opening pair with his raw pace.
“I enjoyed my knock. I just had to take the punches (early on) and I was happy I had the persistence to keep going,” said Dhawan.
“It’s not every time I’ll keep getting boundaries from the start. I had to grind it out.”
Gabriel removed Murali Vijay for just seven after half-an-hour’s play when the right-hander fended at a lifting delivery for Kraigg Brathwaite to take the catch at the second attempt at second slip.
Pujara looked untroubled on joining Dhawan at the crease with the pair putting on 60 before the middle-order player’s error of judgement at the start of the afternoon session.
Having opted to go into the match without uncapped fast-medium bowler Miguel Cummins, the only other pace threat available in the West Indies pre-match squad of 13, it was left to Holder, fellow medium-pacer Carlos Brathwaite and Chase to do the bulk of the early work in support of Gabriel before Bishoo got into his work after lunch.
Nevertheless, those bowling resources were made to appear decidedly inadequate on a placid pitch and against batsmen prepared to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
Early in his innings, Kohli passed 3,000 career Test runs and later on reached 1,000 as Test captain. But the most important figures were the partnerships built around his excellent innings.
His century stand with Dhawan was followed by a further 60 put together with Rahane followed by a fifth-wicket stand so far worth 66 with Ravichandran Ashwin.
With two Test centuries against the West Indies on the Indian sub-continent, the lower-order player will resume on the second morning unbeaten on 22 alongside Kohli.
While the West Indies have packed their side with batting, India opted for a bowling attack comprising three pacers and two spinners, omitting Ravindra Jadeja in preference for Amit Mishra to work in tandem with Ashwin as specialist slow bowlers.
West Indies have not defeated India in Test cricket for 14 years since the end of the 2002 series in the Caribbean and are the decided underdogs for the first meeting with these opponents on home soil for five years.