On day three at Mumbai all you could do was applaud at the majesty of India’s main man.
India 451-7 (Kohli 147*, Vijay 136; Root 2-18) lead England 400 (Jennings 112; Ashwin 6-112) by 51 runs
‘KOH-LI, KOH-LI, KOH-LI’. The fans said it all. This man is so good that sometimes all you can do is utter his name in a haze of awe.
What more can you say about a player who’s so good? It’s all been said before and will all be said again. Many times over. His control of the situation is such that it extends from out in the middle, where his emboldened batting partners thrill to his presence, all the way up to the press box.
We know about his immense talent, his discipline and his obsessive fitness regime; we know about his advertising deals, his hero status and his billboards; we know about his thirst for runs, his leadership, his immense determination. What we don’t know – what England don’t know – is how on earth he can be beaten.
The spontaneous burst of drumbeat-driven, decibel-raising din that accompanies every move of Kohli’s is startling. This is, appropriately around Christmas, adoration of the main guy. The crowd would actually make quite a picture and Kohli – like da Vinci – isn’t even finished.
Today was the Saturday of a Mumbai Test. Quite the time for Indian heroes and Kohli used it to tick off three milestones: 1,000 Test runs for the year, 4,000 runs in Test cricket and another century. It is his 41st in international cricket. His scores in this series: 40, 49*, 167, 81, 62, 6*, 147*. Heavy duty.
— Michael Vaughan (@MichaelVaughan) December 10, 2016
His utter certainty of strokeplay is breathtaking, as if he has closed his mind to the possibility of being dismissed, and not in a self-delusional way. Bristling and preening, his eye contact is immediate and challenging. He bats with the authority of a man that suggests it’s all been pre-ordained. The ball seems programmed to meet the middle of his bat.
Every gesture, every step is forthright, alpha, aggressive. Imagine him in a fencing duel, twirling his moustache, daring you even to think about besting him. He knows how good he is. And so do the fans. Attendances throughout the series have come in for some criticism, and demonetisation notwithstanding India doesn’t always feel like a cricket-mad country that kneels at the altar of Sachin, Virat and co. It did today. The crowds roared and waved their flags to produce the kind of atmosphere this format needs. The noise that greeted his hundred was memorable. As long as Virat Kohli cares about Test cricket it will thrive.
His cause – that of protecting Test cricket – has been aided by a match that’s been engaging throughout. Entire passages of play have drifted with one side in control, only for everything to change around in half an hour.
His other cause – winning games of cricket for India – took a hit in the afternoon session as England rallied to take four wickets. Murali Vijay fell first, caught and bowled by Rashid, and new man Karun Nair went shortly after, trapped in front on review after Moeen came round the wicket and got one to straighten sufficiently to beat the inside-edge.
The inspiration for the second half of England’s charge was Kohli’s opposite man – not as skipper, but as his side’s big dog. With Cook temporarily off the field Joe Root was in charge and his first act was to bring himself on to bowl. Parthiv Patel was bullish in last night’s press conference, not holding back with his opinions on England’s tweakers: “The quality of our bowlers is far better. We have more revolutions on the ball than theirs, and we vary our pace as well. There’s definitely a difference in quality.”
How buoyed England must have been to see him depart to Root’s part-timers. Ravi Ashwin followed in equally enjoyable circumstances, clipping firmly right into the midriff of Keaton Jennings at short-leg who somehow held on through a combination of elbows and thighs.
No combination of anything could budge Kohli, though. This was his day. It was so. With the support of the lower order he took India past England’s total of 400. They already have a significant lead and they’re not done yet. England used their reviews poorly today; when, in the final moments, umpire Oxenford missed a clear legside feather off Jayant Yadav and Cook forlornly asked for a review that he’d already used up, Kohli aped the actions of his oppositie number and laughed in his face. Bairstow limply chirped from behind the stumps that “cricket always gets you back”. And he’s right. Still, if anyone can challenge that truism, it’s the man who resumes tomorrow 147 not out.
All Out Cricket’s coverage of the India-England Test series is in association with Southall Travel