From 134 runs in five Tests in 2014 to 149 runs in one innings four years hence, Virat Kohli hit all the high notes in his first gig on the ‘2018 Redemption Tour’ in England.
On Day 2 of the opening Test on Thursday, the India skipper produced a rock-star performance, almost single-handedly helping his side to within 13 runs of England’s first innings total.
Confident, patient, driven and lucky, Kohli was playing a different game. He was watchful at the start but could have well returned early to the pavilion if not for two dropped catches by Dawid Malan in the slips on 21 and 51. He would make most of those reprieves notching up his first century in England before staging India’s dramatic recovery that saw them post a total of 274 after stumbling to 100/5 at one stage.
Kohli was at the crease for 225 deliveries, stroking 22 boundaries and one six along the way. With a strike-rate of 66.22, it was an uncharacteristic knock by his standards.
Kohli came into his own only in the latter half of the day. The first period was spent combating England spearhead James Anderson.
The right-handed batsman had no choice but to check his ego. The memories of a dismal 2014 tour were still fresh. Anderson, who was his tormentor-in-chief in that series was still around and bowled a marathon spell just so he could keep bowling at Kohli.
With the bitter memories all so fresh, the India skipper would be excused for not following his natural attacking style against his nemesis. Anderson, now 36, ensured there was no let up from his end.
Duel with Anderson
In the lead up to the series, former England captain Mike Atherton had described the tussle best. “Kohli comes into the series four years wiser and Anderson four years older,” he had said.
Built up as the battle of the series, the Kohli-Anderson duel lived up to its top billing. Kohli had become a regular scalp for Anderson in 2014. Keeping the pacer at bay was one of the major challenges coming into the series. Luck, though, favoured Kohli in his first outing this time around.
Anderson was in marauding form. It was in his second spell post-lunch that he really came into his own. He found the edge of Kohli’s bat four times, thrice it landed safely and was dropped once.
During this spell, Anderson bowled 43 deliveries at Kohli, not one was pitched in line of the stumps. Anderson, though, managed to get plenty of movement and got the ball to dart in. Kohli attempted to drive him early on but a few edges kept him in check.
Kohli reverted to play the defensive game from thereon, choosing instead to keep his wicket safe rather than go plundering for runs.
The dropped catch came at the end of Anderson’s intense spell of 15 overs that saw him concede just 27 runs and bowl six maidens. He was unlucky not to get any wicket during this phase. If not for the dropped catch, Anderson had all but won the duel. Fortunately for Kohli, luck was on his side.
The dismissal of Kohli would have been well-earned for Anderson. But it turned out to be Kohli’s lucky day. He would be dropped once again off Ben Stokes, this time while batting on 51. Malan was the guilty party in slips again. The chance, though, was a difficult one, but with Kohli half-way to a century, it would have helped England’s cause if he had latched on.
The India skipper made most of the reprieves even as wickets kept tumbling around him. Kohli, though, remained calm after weathering the early storm.
Surviving Anderson had almost given him a second lease of life.
Kohli was was watchful and self-aware while playing Anderson. He left the ball well and seldom went for the expansive shots giving the bowler as few chances as possible.
But, once Anderson was off the attack, Kohli was a different beast. He kept making vital adjustments through the innings to keep the bowlers guessing. Ben Stokes and Sam Curran who were causing havoc at the other end could not quite bother Kohli as much as Anderson. Stokes did get him to edge in the direction of the slips, but it was an error borne more out of a lapse in Kohli’s concentration than Stokes’ ability to force a false shot.
Kohli did not look back after the second reprieve, he soldiered on even as he kept losing partners. The match situation was constantly changing and the Indian skipper soon took charge.
With his nerves settled, he then proceeded to do what none of his team-mates came close to emulating. He dominated the English bowlers. His rear-guard effort with the tail deflated the English will.
The England bowlers, all of whom had long tiring spells by then, were losing their edge and Kohli kept chipping away at the opposition total even stringing up a 50-plus stand with last man Umesh Yadav. He eventually fell a run short of 150 trying to cut Rashid through the off-side.
Luck did favoure the brave, but it was a knock of great value. Earned by a lot of grit and perseverance. From a situation of utter ruins, Kohli brought India back in the fight. It was like Kohli had pulled off a perfect composition despite a broken string.