Is there a best time to get a double hundred? Hardly. The ideal time is when a batsman actually gets it. Yet skipper Virat Kohli’s 211 against New Zealand, which virtually commemorated the first-ever Test at Indore’s Holkar Cricket Stadium, was a timely strike for the batsman.
Kohli plays cricket with an overt display of passion unmatched in Indian players. The intensity he brings to the game makes him an endearing sight. Yet, Kohli was not exactly setting Test pitches alight with runs prior to the Indore Test.
The belligerent batsman, who was in smashing form in the World T20 and IPL earlier this year and absolutely brilliant in ODIs in Australia, has had a roller coaster ride in Tests. At times he was in sublime form, like during the two double hundreds – 211 vs the Kiwis and 200 vs West Indies in Antigua. But in between he had just 132 runs from seven innings.
When asked, pointedly, before the start of the Indore Test if this poor run of Test scores after the West Indies double hundred bothered him, Kohli replied in the negative. But it was obvious that it must have touched a raw nerve. It ensured that he decided that the ‘time was right’ for another epic.
However, the manner in which he notched up the marvelous 211 in the first innings of the Indore Test was unusual given his natural inclination to attack. The intensity of his determination to register a huge score simply could not be missed.
There were “only” 20 boundaries in a very good Test match strike-rate of 57.65. The fact that less than 38 percent of his double hundred was dealt in boundaries put him in a bracket with acknowledged slow coaches Ravi Shastri (39 percent of his 206 vs Australia) and Cheteshwar Pujara (41 percent of his 206 vs England).
At Indore, Kohli batted like a man on a mission. He ran his singles and twos hard and kept up a very healthy strike rate in the record 365-run fourth wicket partnership with Ajinkya Rahane (188), to ensure that he would be signing off the Test series against the Kiwis on a high. This would certainly come in handy for the forthcoming series against England.
The Indian skipper, arguably the best batsman in world cricket, has had his bouts of highs and lows. Earlier, just before the 88 vs South Africa in New Delhi followed by the 200 in the Caribbean, Kohli had just one half century (78 vs Sri Lanka in Colombo) in a total of 241 runs from 10 innings.
These minor troughs showed that he was only human and, if anything, made his huge knocks – the 12 hundreds and two double hundreds – a matter to rejoice.
Kohli’s finest Test series thus far was the challenging tour of Australia in 2014-15 where he brought a new aggressive dimension to captaincy. He made four centuries, including a century in each innings of the first Test, to stamp his arrival as one of the foremost batsmen in world cricket.
Till then, although he had made centuries in South Africa and New Zealand, his flop in the series in England was disappointing.
English fast bowlers, James Anderson in particular, had harassed him with late swing. Kohli's scores of 1, 8, 25, 0, 39, 28, 0, 7, 6, 20 in the five Tests were anything but inspiring. In fact, former England cricketer and commentator Geoffrey Boycott went on to state that Andreson ate Kohli for breakfast. "Every time Kohli came in, all he (Anderson) did was bowl at off stump, around the corridor of uncertainty and Kohli nicked it."
Boycott went on to add that Kohli was playing too far away from his body. Another cricketing great and respected observer of the game, the late Martin Crowe, pointed out that Kohli had a solid technique with no obvious weakness. Yet his footwork against late swing was not decisive enough. He said that he was not getting his foot close enough to the ball to shut down late moment.
Kohli, like all outstanding players did not sit down and mope at his failures (average of 13.40 for that series). He rationalised that he had erred by not having a counter plan. "I stood in the same position and kept getting out the same way," he had said.
Thus for the next series, against Australia, he decided to stand outside the crease and also shift his batting guard from leg stump to middle stump. He said that this, along with his shuffle to the off stump, sorted out his problems and also enabled him to drive on the up. The century in each innings (115 & 141) in the Adelaide Test and tons (169 & 147 in Melbourne and Sydney Tests, respectively) vindicated the tweaking of his batting stance.
It is this rare ability to come good when required – barring in that series in England but including the double hundred in Indore – that makes Kohli such a special cricketer. Hopefully when the Englishmen come visiting next month he would display more of this prowess, get into the zone and make them pay like never before.