The measure of just how good Virat Kohli’s innings was came to the fore by the time West Indies had their first crack. © WICB

The measure of just how good Virat Kohli’s innings was came to the fore by the time West Indies had their first crack. © WICB

A very wise man once said that a cricket pitch should not be judged until both teams have batted on it. Those words rang true loud and clear at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua. On Day 2, the pitch was made to look ultra placid for the best part by Virat Kohli, who made his first double-century with a minimum of fuss. On Day 3, when West Indies had their turn to bat, the surface looked like anything but a belter.

Both teams came into the first Test match expecting a lack of steep bounce, express pace or sharp turn. This meant that every wicket would have to be earned, every run protected fiercely. West Indies did a good job of sticking to a disciplined line and length on the first day, but once Kohli began to dominate, it became increasingly difficult to stick the strategy of boring the batsman out.

The measure of just how good Kohli’s innings was came to the fore by the time West Indies had their first crack. Kohli scored his runs at a strike rate of 70.67, finding the ones and twos with ease while putting away the bad balls mercilessly. No other batsman came close to finding this kind of fluency. R Ashwin, who was more than tidy at the crease, save for one tickle to the keeper that was spilled, made his runs at a strike rate of 44.

Having had the best seat in the house while Kohli did his thing, Ashwin recalled just how much of a different plane his partner was batting on. “When I walked in and started batting I felt like Virat was hitting a few shots that were almost impossible for me to connect,” said Ashwin. “And that is the sheer brilliance of how Virat has been batting over the last year or so. He’s just playing a few shots, which makes the bowling look ridiculous. I should say those shots are out of ordinary shots.”

In the West Indian camp, no batsman came close to the kind of innings Kohli played. Kraigg Brathwaite applied himself with unerring concentration, and while this proved that crease occupation was far from impossible if you had the right technique and the will, the runs were hard to come by. Brathwaite is not the most aggressive of batsmen at the best of times, and that is no bad thing in an era heavily influenced by Twenty20 cricket, but his innings – 74 off 218 balls – needed someone else to step it up at the other end.

West Indies have a few players who like to play their shots, but on this pitch, it was next to impossible for any of them to get going. This was a point Ashwin made, politely contradicting the opinion of Roddy Estwick, the West Indies bowling coach, who thought the surface was a “good wicket for batting”.

“Earlier, I heard the West Indies bowling coach talking about how good a batting wicket this is. But there are certain shots that cannot be played on this wicket,” said Ashwin. “It’s not a wicket where you walk in, plonk your feet and just hit it. There is good bounce in the wicket. And there are areas where the ball is coming at different paces as well.”

West Indies have a few players who like to play their shots, but on this pitch, it was next to impossible for any of them to get going. This was a point Ashwin made, politely contradicting the opinion of Roddy Estwick, the West Indies bowling coach, who thought the surface was a “good wicket for batting”.

In the absence of a Kohli-esque innings, West Indies were vulnerable to being hurt by every falling wicket. Even if India’s bowlers had to bend their backs and be patient, even if mini partnerships developed, the bowlers could plug on, buoyed by the knowledge that the runs were not coming at pace and that the match and the scoreboard had not moved significantly on.

On a wide variety of surfaces, from spicy to benign, leaving the ball alone is a most prized art in Test cricket. The flip side of this is that bowlers need to try and make the batsman play as much as possible, attacking the stumps, creating opportunities for batsmen to make mistakes. India did that perfectly, and West Indies’ batsmen obliged just often enough to keep hopes of a Monday afternoon at one of Antigua’s 365 beaches alive.