Few batsmen in world cricket could have batted with the panache and conviction of a Virat Kohli. England’s media, consisting of their former cricketers, may snidely remark that Joe Root is marginally ahead of him just as the Kiwi media thinks the world of Kane Williamson.
But in the light of Saturday’s magnificent batting under intense pressure, Virat Kohli must surely have triggered shock and awe even in the staunchest of rival supporters.
The stunning impact of his unbeaten century was not as much for the weight of runs — although that too was invaluable without doubt — it was the skill, courage and conviction while batting on a pitch more conducive to bowling that took one’s breath away.
The Wankhede Stadium pitch offered plenty of encouragement to the spinners. It had bounce and carry which are a boon to spinners operating with bat-pad fielders. The England bowlers were also getting the ball to grip the third day’s play surface and spin viciously. Additionally, England were defending quite a substantial total, of 400.
Thus, it was imperative that India not only took the lead but surged ahead so as to put pressure right back on the visitors.
Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara had already revealed on the second day that the devil in this pitch could still be tamed. But the loss of Pujara to only the second delivery of the day was a huge blow.
It was at this stage that Kohli walked in. His team at 146 for three was under siege. Another early wicket would have crushed the spirits of the remaining batsmen.
A lesser batsman would have been besieged by doubts and uncertainty. But not Kohli. He was magnificent. His self-belief on a pitch of variable turn was staggering. The assurance, confidence, conviction and intensity that he brought into play simply subjugated the opposition.
Kohli had Vijay in the early part of the innings. Vijay continued to bat as convincingly as he had done on Friday and thus registered another superb century. While he had had the company of Pujara on Day 2, when the duo added 107 runs, he had the reassuring presence of Kohli on Saturday.
The pair put on 116 runs in a third-wicket stand that had supporters thirsting for more. The going, though, was far from easy.
Leg-spinner Adil Rashid and off-spinner Moeen Ali posed plenty of questions. The former was getting the odd ball to jump and turn viciously. There were times he was getting the ball to spin across the face of the bat. At other times, his well-disguised googlies turned and bounced a bit more than expected.
Moeen, who interestingly seems to have done well against India in the past, was once again a handful. He was getting the ball to loop and a few deliveries almost went through the gate of the right-hand batsmen. He might have been unlucky on a few occasions when the ball just kissed the inside edge and deviated from the line of the stumps. His round the wicket bowling, which sought to get angle, drift and contra spin going was extremely challenging.
Kohli, though, batted like the champion he is. His footwork was assured and he backed himself whether playing with soft hands or going hard at the ball. His footwork, use of hands, strokeplay and judgement were truly a masterclass in the art of playing spin bowling.
Kohli needed to put runs on the board and at the same time ensure that the team would guard against conceding any ground to the visitors. Thus, his mix of aggression laced with caution. The fact that each of the three sessions fetched over hundred runs (101, 101, 103) showed how calculated and assured the assault was.
The 116-run partnership with Vijay (136; 282b 10x4, 3x6) gave the team just the impetus it needed in the morning. The afternoon session however alarmed supporters. Three key batsmen, Karun Nair (13), Parthiv Patel (15) and Ravichandran Ashwin (0), who could have forged substantial partnerships with Kohli and thus driven home the advantage, failed. From an encouraging 262 for two the team had slumped to 307 for 6 and England’s total of 400 looked insurmountable.
Had England squeezed out a 50 to 60-run lead, the home side would have been in serious trouble. It was then that Kohli coaxed and guided two other all rounders, Ravinder Jadeja (25) and Jayant Yadav (30 batting) to make a stand and initiated the push back.
Ultimately, the unbroken 87-run eighth wicket stand with Yadav fetched the lead.
Kohli, though, does not look like he has finished with his batting in the innings. He went about his task like a man with a mission. Where others struggled, he not only kept the bowlers at bay but picked runs off them.
His unbeaten hundred (147 bating, 241b, 17x4) would surely rank among his finest essays in Test cricket. The team, ahead by 51 runs at stumps, would aim to add another 50 to 60 runs on the morrow. That would put England under severe stress on a pitch that can only get worse.
Hence, Sunday should make for fascinating play. India’s aim would still be to chase a target of less than 150 runs in the fourth innings.
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Updated Date: Dec 10, 2016 20:57:00 IST