Virat Kohli entered a league of his own on Friday with a double-century against South Africa in the second Test. His unbeaten 254 off 336 in Pune was his seventh double ton in Test cricket, the most by an Indian.
It was a typical Kohli innings, laced with attractive strokeplay, determination and a situational awareness that’s exclusive to him these days. He’s known to be a masterful chaser in white-ball cricket but his knock on Friday served another reminder of how he can let the match situation dictate his tempo even in Tests.
Right from the moment he walked out to bat on Thursday, Kohli knew exactly what the team needed and he molded his game accordingly. This is, of course, something he’s done umpteen times in One-Day and T20 Internationals.
Mayank Agarwal was going great guns when the skipper came to the crease on the opening day of the second Test. India were 163/2 at that time and in complete control of proceedings. Kohli let his younger partner be the aggressor in their partnership and reached 8 off 28 when Agarwal was dismissed.
Having read the pitch and understood the conditions by that time, Kohli allowed Ajinkya Rahane to settle in during the final session of the day by taking over the run-scoring duties. He realised that the Proteas were listless at that point and put away every loose delivery. He reached 63 at stumps while Rahane got to 14, and had contributed 79 runs when the pair brought up their 100-run partnership on Friday morning.
The first session on day two posed the biggest challenge for Kohli. The second new ball was just five overs old when play began and South Africa were motivated to make the most of the fresh conditions in the morning, something they had not done the previous day.
Vernon Philander was bowling a nagging line just outside off stump, an area Kohli isn’t too comfortable with. The right-arm pacer was moving the ball both ways and he managed to get the outside edge of the Indian captain’s bat on as many as four occasions. But each time, the ball fell short of the catchers behind the stumps.
This was because unlike Agarwal, who went for a hard push and got caught in the slip cordon, Kohli was playing the ball with soft hands, almost taking his bottom glove off the bat at the point of impact. And this, of course, was the consequence of his steely resolve to respect South Africa’s pacers in the opening passage of play.
Kohli scored 23 runs in the first hour on Friday, choosing to put his head down, defend with a straight bat and leave as many balls alone as possible. It was the need of the hour and he didn’t falter. Playing with one less batsmen in this game, India would’ve been in a tricky position had he fallen early on day two.
The right-hander was rewarded for his patience from thereon. With the sun baking the pitch and the opposition struggling to hold things together, Kohli decided to switch gears again. He started going for his shots and picking boundaries with ease, knowing fully well that there were enough wickets in the bag to push hard for a declaration at a certain point after tea.
Again, Kohli pressed the accelerator when Ravindra Jadeja was new to the crease. He had scored 44 runs in their 50 run partnership. Despite having spent a long time in the middle in humid conditions, the 30-year-old also never missed an opportunity to steal an extra run.
India added 87 runs in the first session on Friday and 117 in the second. And once Kohli got to his double-century soon after Tea, he knew it was time to go full tilt. He hadn’t hit a single six till that point, which reflects the discipline with which he goes about his business. But he didn’t break a sweat in sending deliveries from Keshav Maharaj and Senuran Muthusamy over the ropes thereafter as he raced to 250.
Kohli’s innings progression:
First 50 runs: 91 balls
Next 50 runs: 82 balls
Next 50 runs: 68 balls
Next 50 runs: 54 balls
Next 50 runs: 39 balls
However, the biggest testament to Kohli’s devotion to the team’s cause was the timing of his declaration. He didn’t waste a second in deciding to walk back to the pavilion once Jadeja perished for 91 and missed out on a century. One can think of many great names of the game who would’ve considered going for a triple century at that point. After all, one doesn’t get the opportunity to get there very often.
Kohli was batting on 254 at that time and timing the ball wonderfully. It wouldn’t have taken him long to get another fifty runs. And it’s hard to imagine the course of this match getting altered had India batted a little longer. But Kohli simply isn’t one for personal milestones. His stay at the crease was characterised by a purpose to take his team forward in the match, and it ended that way as well.