Majestic Kohli ton leaves Test evenly poised

Virat Kohli could have just held up a note, a la Denesh Ramdin at the same ground, saying ‘Yeah people, talk nah!’ after making his first Test hundred in England. Instead, he took out his wedding ring, which he wears on a chain around his neck, kissed it and dedicated it to his wife, Anushka Sharma.

It was a special celebration for what has been a most spectacular century, highlighted by a thoroughness that most professionals dream of. It helped India escape a hounding on the field, with Kohli’s 22nd Test hundred helping them recover from 100/5 and eventually get to a respectable 274-all out, with the captain making more than half the runs. It left them with a narrow deficit of 13, when at one stage 100+, even 150, looked on course.

They say never judge a pitch until both sides have batted on it. India found out the hard way why, as the rest of the batting order was blown away. Sam Curran, left arm and swinging it big into the right handers, and James Anderson, as miserly and masterful as ever, put the match back in England’s favour with some delightful swing bowling, but Kohli played an innings that should rank as one of his best to help India restore parity.

India would have ended with far less if it wasn’t for Kohli withstanding a thorough examination of his skill and temperament.

Curran was the unexpected star of the day for England. While all eyes were on Broad and Anderson, Curran turned up after the Indian openers had put on 50 runs for the first wicket and changed the course of the game. He swung the ball back in big into Murali Vijay, and suddenly India’s openers looked in troubled. He had Vijay out LBW, with the help of DRS before a wide half-volley to KL Rahul was chopped back onto the stumps.

When, in the next over, Dhawan edged Curran to Dawid Malan at second slip, India had lost three wickets for nine runs. Curran had turned the game on his head, and it needed a fighting hundred from Kohli to keep India in the game.

It wasn’t the typical Kohli innings. He was patient and treated the bowlers with great respect. His restraint from fishing outside the off stump, which brought about his downfall last time, was superb, as was England’s discipline in constantly testing him. It resulted in him giving England two chances, one off Anderson when on 21 and another off Stokes when he’d passed his fifty. But Malan put down the chances, and Kohli made the most of them.

Kohli’s stellar hundred was made all the more impressive by the bowlers’ performance. Curran had already wreaked havoc – he would later add the wicket of Hardik Pandya to the list. James Anderson showed why he was one of the best in the world, consistently hitting the right areas to never let Kohli off the hook. Ben Stokes was close to unplayable, getting the ball to swing away and beat the bat constantly. He had Ajinkya Rahane caught at third slip with one such, and then bowled Dinesh Karthik with a full inswinger, leaving the stumps in shatters. But Kohli overcame them all.

Despite losing partners at regular intervals, Kohli’s determination did not waver. He continued to leave and defend the good balls. There were many unplayable balls inbetween, but Kohli did not play a shot in anger, underlining his intention to bat as long as possible. The ball continued to swing throughout the day, and Kohli did not have a single partnership over fifty, before he took matters into his own hands with Umesh Yadav, India’s number 11, at the other end.

It was only when Hardik Pandya, after a defiant stand of 48, and R Ashwin, after a stand of 21, had ended that the more adventurous side of Kohli came into play. Anderson had found rewards for his hardwork just then. Ashwin was bowled by a beauty, while Mohammad Shami could only edge an away swinger to Malan.

With India 9 down for 217, Kohli was still one shot away from his hundred. He got there with a cut past point, let out a scream and kissed his wedding ring as the Edgbaston crowd that booed his entry rose up to give him a wonderful ovation.

It was only now that Kohli stood up to dominate the bowlers. Inside out cover drives, full blooded pulls, flicks and cuts all came into play as India cut down their deficit to less than fifty. Umesh Yadav stuck around for 16 balls, but with Kohli looking for quick runs, even England’s fully spread out field could only watch on hoping for luck to turn.

Incidentally, it was Adil Rashid who gave them that, with the Indian captain cutting the last ball of the 76th over to Stuart Broad at point, to be out for 149 – which was the first time since August 2015 that Kohli had failed to convert his 100 into a 150.

India opened with Shami, and in a surprise move, R Ashwin, hoping the offspinner could do what he did early in England’s first innings. He did exactly that. Alastair Cook was once again out bowled by an absolute corker, and England went into stumps at 9/1, leading by 22 runs, and leaving the game poised tantalisingly tantalising.

Brief scores: England 287 & 9/1 (Ravichandran Ashwin 1/5) lead India 274 (Virat Kohli 149; Sam Curran 4-74, Adil Rashid 2-31) by 22 runs

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