Whatever the conditions, match situation or bowling attack, certain batsmen seem to conjure up an answer for it. Virat Kohli has been delivering in that capacity for years now, and Day 3 of the second Test against England was yet another display of his ability to deliver in that role.
At the close of England's innings, India seemed to have grabbed their opponents by the scruff of the neck by gaining a 200-run lead. At close of play, it still was advantage India as they stretched their lead to 298. What many would not understand though is the struggle that Kohli went through in the second innings.
It was England's premier pace duo of Stuart Broad and James Anderson who inflicted early blows on the Indian batting line up in their second essay, while the spinners gave their best shot on a pitch that was starting to play tricks with the batsmen. England would have wanted to stifle the hosts as much as they could in order to restrict the target to one that Alastair Cook and Co would be able to chase on a fast-deteriorating pitch.
However, it was Kohli's determined approach, combined with his flawless execution of drives off bad deliveries, that nearly undid the England new-ball pair's good work in the initial overs. The Delhi lad – who is going through a remarkable year with the bat across formats – pulled off what is fast becoming an everyday routine for him, as he steadied the ship for the hosts along with Ajinkya Rahane (22 not out). India are now are on course for setting a target in excess of 400 on a pitch that the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja would love to feast on in the last two days.
The day started with Ashwin, who had taken two crucial wickets to peg the Englishmen back on the second day, atrociously wasting a review — that for an LBW against Jonny Bairstow when the ball was clearly deflected towards fine-leg off his glove. It was not the first time that the Tamil Nadu off-spinner had taken such a decision all by himself without consulting his mates, especially his captain.
There were a few more fumbles thereafter, as Wriddhiman Saha failed to pull off an MS Dhoni-like stumping after having effected a run out much like the Indian limited overs captain on the second day (a backhand throw onto the stumps to run Haseeb Hameed out).
Instead of lunging forward to collect the ball and whip the bails off in a flash, Saha allowed the ball to glide into his gloves, before it spilled out and let Stokes put his foot back in the safe zone. The New Zealand-born all-rounder went on to add 49 more runs.
The missed chances allowed Bairstow and Stokes to build a frustrating stand, one that would dominate nearly the entire period of the first session of the day. Ashwin and the rest of the spin department tried one trick after another, and were thwarted by their patience at the crease, before eventually making mistakes due to impatience and pressure, and paying the price in boundaries.
It took a vicious inswinger from Umesh Yadav to uproot Bairstow's leg stump minutes before lunch, to put India back in the game. Bairstow simply did not have an answer on this occasion, as the Vidarbha pacer managed to break the century stand, and along with it, England's momentum.
The new ball was taken shortly after lunch, although it was Ashwin who seemed to have made better use of it than Umesh or Mohammed Shami. The biggest threat in Stokes was neutralised shortly after the introduction of the spinners, and even DRS could not save him on that occasion as he was simply playing down the wrong line to get rapped on the pad in front of the middle stump.
After Jadeja got rid of Zafar Ansari to get his first wicket of the innings, Broad was the ninth to go, getting dismissed in a similar manner, though umpire Kumar Dharmasena's decision was a horrendous one as the ball appeared to be missing leg. If only England had a review at that stage.
Ashwin, who has been performing as exceptionally with the ball as he has with the bat this year (52 wickets at an average of 22.51), collected his 22nd Test five-for by removing Anderson in the very next delivery, as India managed to end the English innings while gaining a 200-run lead. Kohli, however, decided against enforcing the follow on, thereby ensuring that his bowlers got adequate rest, and the pitch deteriorated a little further.
KL Rahul had a disappointing return from injury after getting caught in the slips for a duck in the first innings, and failed to make much of an impact in the second essay as both him and opening partner Murali Vijay walked back to the pavilion with just 17 runs on the board. Incidentally, Vijay's dismissal was the first instance of England getting a successful referral in the ongoing series.
Things got worse when Cheteshwar Pujara – centurion at Rajkot, as well as in the first innings at Vizag – was dismissed for one, with a vicious Anderson inswinger beating his defence and hitting his stumps. With the hosts facing the prospect of an embarrassing collapse, it was upto Kohli to save the day yet again, with help from a much-improved Rahane at the other end, who this time around, did not fall into the set of traps laid before him by the likes of Moeen Ali.
Kohli will look to avoid a repeat of the second day by getting dismissed early in the first session, and guide his side to a commanding lead by lunch while bringing up his second consecutive century.
The skipper seems to have stopped celebrating his milestone for good by now, given the frequency with which he gathers runs for his side which has brought about a strong sense of monotonousness in a century. He will, however, certainly give his teammates as well as fans a good reason to cheer if he gets to the three figure mark while helping his side inch closer to gaining a lead in the series.