India vs England 2021: Kohli’s Masterclass Performances in Chennai Equivalent of Any Test Hundred
And they go on and on and on – ‘Virat Kohli has not scored a Test hundred since 2020. Kohli is going through his longest unbeaten streak without registering a ton.’ As a nation we are obsessed with milestones. We are obsessed with fifties and hundreds and aggregates. So while the Indian cricket team captain has still not registered an international hundred for 34 innings, he has recorded two classy 70s and a 60 all under pressure in different circumstances and conditions in his last six Test innings which have not got their due as they are not typically defined as milestones!
Kohli came out to bat at the score of 55 on Day 3 with Cheteshwar Pujara back in the pavilion. Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant followed soon after and India, although in a commanding position, were conceding some ground to England. And this was not acceptable to Kohli – the captain, Kohli – the player and Kohli – the individual! He understood the context of this match and the talent England boasted of both in their batting and bowling department. He wanted to make a statement here. He had been the superstar batsman at home leading his team to an unprecedented domination in their own backyard in the last few years. The King had been challenged by the visitors, his fortress had been breached and he did not like it.
Kohli did not only want to beat England, he wanted to hammer them. Anything less would not be acceptable to the Indian skipper. He also knew the relevance of a huge win given the third Test is a Day and Night one at Ahmedabad where England would be harder to beat. Kohli wanted to squeeze the maximum out of this Test. He wanted to demoralize England. And that is what he set out to do.
He did not score a run of his first 19 deliveries but the intent was there – the intent to not throw away his wicket, the intent to show the world and the critics that it was not impossible to bat on that Chepauk wicket and the intent to hurt England just a wee bit more. He pulled out his A game in defence. Kohli went either right forward taking a big stride or went back and across – there was clear thinking and strategy behind his batting. Such was his discipline against the spinners that he only scored his first boundary off the 36th delivery of his innings.
It was only after Rahane’s wicket with the score at 86 that Kohli resorted to Plan B – to score some runs as he was running out of partners from the other end. He started to play a few shots and got a few boundaries away. When he found an able partner in Ashwin he let him play the aggressor and was happy to be the rock at the other end. The result – the pair put together a match-defining 96-run stand for the seventh-wicket (from 106 for 6) batting England out of the contest. If Kohli had thrown it away early in his innings, India could have been bowled out for less than 120 which would have given England an outside chance of a win. But that was not to be.
Kohli blunt the England attack and tired them in the heat and humidity of Chennai. He also gave a lesson or two to the other Indian batsmen on how to back on a turning and bouncing wicket at home – a big stretch forward or going right back when the bowlers dropped it a touch shorter – were the two hallmarks of his batting. He put the bad balls away and occasionally some good ones too.
By the team he was dismissed for 62 off 149 deliveries, India had stretched their lead to almost 400 and batted England right out of the contest. It was Game, Set, Match – India and their captain, through a masterclass in defence, technique, resolve and temperament had shown the way with great support from Ashwin. In an innings where the sum of the other batsmen in the top 6 was a mere 65, Kohli had scored 62 off his own bat. Given the pressure of wickets falling around him and the context of the match and series, this was a higher impact innings than a lot of Test hundreds recorded by the Indian great.
This innings was preceded by another splendid 70 by Kohli on Day 5 of the series opener. With the rest of the batsmen falling like ninepins around him, the Indian captain, in contrast to his innings in the second Test, decided that the best form of defence then was to attack and be positive and score runs on a crumbling last day wicket. He top-scored in the innings with 72 off just 104 deliveries with 9 boundaries. He had scored 40% of India’s runs by the time he was dismissed and looked in a different zone to all the other Indian batsmen in the innings with the exception of Shubman Gill. While they struggled to put bat to ball he scored his runs in sublime fashion at a strike rate of almost 70.
Kohli also looked in fine touch in the first innings of the Pink Ball opener at the Adelaide Oval in December. He had top-scored for India there too with a splendid 74 negotiating the likes of Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood for 180 deliveries on a very helpful wicket. Much like Chennai in the first Test, Kohli had scored almost 40% of his team’s total by the time he exited in Adelaide.
These three performances by Kohli scoring a high proportion of his team’s runs under pressure as wickets fell around him in low scoring team innings in difficult conditions either aiding fast bowling or spin are as valuable as any Test hundred. Just because they are not recognized as milestones it does not reduce their impact.