In Test cricket, there is significant reward in self denial. It is now part of Sachin Tendulkar's legend that he refused to play the cover drive — a shot that brought him runs by the buckets over the years — during the Test at Sydney in 2004, after he was dismissed a couple of times earlier in the tour while playing that shot. He would go on to score 241 runs without being dismissed. Even after he was well set, he could have afforded to play the cover drive, but he denied himself that opportunity, and thereby denied the opposition a pathway to get him out.
That a batsman whose credentials were already indelibly etched in the history books and in people's minds, would and could perform such extreme form of monk-like discipline was incredible. That innings is also curious in that it did not feature a single six. Tendulkar basically took two high risk shots out of his armory and it should be no surprise that a player of his calibre would then score a double century.
At Hyderabad against an outmatched Bangladesh, Virat Kohli essayed his fourth double hundred in Tests, and the third one not to feature a single ball launched over the boundary. Kohli achieved his first double century in Antigua last year without hitting a six, and repeated the feat against New Zealand in Indore, and his third Test double hundred against England at Wankhede had a single six — hit after he was past 200 and looking for declaration.
For a batsman who made his reputation in the limited overs format, where he hits three sixes in four innings, Kohli has only hit 11 sixes in his 91 Test innings. His childhood coach Rajkumar Sharma noted after his 235 against England in Mumbai, “[Kohli] has made a conscious effort to not hit sixes in Test cricket. He has all the shots to score runs, so why take any risk of playing the ball in the air? His intention is to play along the ground as much as possible.” Ten of his 16 centuries do not feature a six, and the most number of boundaries (25) in any of Kohli's double hundreds came during his Mumbai innings.
The gulf between India and Bangladesh is more than just their positions in the ICC Test rankings. Bangladeshi bowlers are not equipped with the level of application and consistency required to prise out quality batsman like Kohli. The Indian captain could have easily indulged himself after he reached his 16th Test century by looking for the big shots but he chose to deny himself that luxury to accumulate more runs for himself and his side. Bangladesh could only have hoped to remove Kohli if he had in fact given in to the temptation but by resisting it, he shut the door firmly on the visitors.
This particular Kohli innings at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium was remarkable in that the first 101 runs included just 10 hits to the boundary, and the next 103 runs featured 14 more. That he had four more shots to the rope for his second hundred runs was the extent of Kohli cutting himself loose. That has been the level of concentration and dedication to his philosophy of cutting risk down while batting. But that he did not hit a six, or gorge himself on boundaries did not slow his innings down; Kohli ended with a strike rate of over 80 (82.92 to be precise), built on 67 singles, 19 twos and a three.
In the 140-years history of Test cricket, there have been 360 individual innings of 200 runs or more. Of those, 183 innings did not feature a single hit over the boundary rope. For the 133 innings in which 'balls faced' data was recorded, only two of them ended with better strike rate than Kohli's innings at Hyderbad: Victor Trumper's 214 off 247 balls at Adelaide in 1911, and Adam Voges' 269* off 285 deliveries at Hobart in 2015, and both the innings contained more boundaries than Kohli's.
Of these 133 innings without a six, 24 of them finished with strike rate in excess of 70 runs per 100 balls, by 21 different batsmen. Three batsmen feature in this list of 24 twice: Donald Bradman, Brian Lara and Virat Kohli. It's never too shabby to be featured alongside Bradman and Trumper in any list. It is an indication of Kohli's current Test batting form that he could bridge Trumper and Bradman, one celebrated for the sheer joy he brought to the watchers with his batting and the other for the deep hunger for scoring runs. In the last season, Kohli has been able to put on a show of batting mastery while never losing his appetite for runs.
It is no coincidence that Kohli now firmly occupies the slot in the India lineup owned by Tendulkar for two decades. He has shown to be a worthy successor to that spot in not just the glut of runs, and stroke play, but also in the sort of discipline that Tendulkar most famously displayed at Sydney.
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Updated Date: Feb 11, 2017 10:09:14 IST