There’s Virat Kohli, there’s a gap, there are the stands, the India lower order, then there are the nets and after going past a snoozing Ravi Shastri, one finally reaches the rest of India’s top order. That is how badly the India’s batsmen have been doing on tough ‘away’ tours.
India require their highest run-chase in England to take a 1-0 lead in the series, surpassing the 174 they made at The Oval in 1971, but they have Kohli in the middle. While he is there, the total almost doesn’t matter. It has taken the Indian skipper one match (albeit with two chances) to exorcise the demons of the 2014 tour. He has scored more runs and faced more balls in one match than he did on the entire tour last time round.
His resurgence will be more than welcomed by India, for he has shown an incredible ability to drag his team up with him. As long as Kohli is there, the match seems like it is being played on a different planet; on a different pitch. In the first innings, the India skipper batted with great discipline and showcased an intelligence that has become his hallmark. He somehow always seems to have the bigger picture in mind.
But at the same time, the rest of the batting line-up needs to start contributing as well. India were 100/5 in the first innings and 78/5 in the second innings. Helpful conditions and good bowling by England didn’t help the cause of the Indian batsmen but, surely, they need to do better. It is still early days in the tour and perhaps this might sound a bit too critical but the lack of a plan stands out.
Kohli has made an England specific-adjustment. He is standing out of his crease to negate the swing as much as possible and even take the leg-before dismissal out of the equation. This helped him when Sam Curran’s inswinging delivery thudded into his pads. The umpires gave it not out straightaway but England decided to review it anyway – the ball pitched in line, swung back in towards the stumps but height proved to be decisive factor.
He continues to do what he was doing in South Africa – making a very conscious effort to meet the ball early and keep his shape as much as possible. He is not chasing deliveries. Yes, he will swing and miss but the mental discipline he has shown has allowed him overpower England single-handedly so far. It could have been very different if England had taken the two chances in the first innings but one could never fault him for trying.
The important part is that Kohli has been thinking about and working on counter measures. The rest of the batting line-up has had the same time at their disposal as their skipper but, still, they haven’t managed to tighten their game enough. Dinesh Karthik, after that loose shot in the first innings, seems to have taken a leaf out of Kohli’s book. He is taking a big stride and standing outside his crease as well.
Sometimes, cricket is all about the little things. There is no need to overhaul the technique in a big way but just enough to show intent… to show your determination.
South Africa should have been a warning for India – Kohli averaged 47.67 and the rest of the middle order averaged 19.72. But instead, the team seems determined to cruise on the skipper’s quality.
That India’s chances largely lie with Kohli, who has scored exactly half of India’s runs (384) in the match, is understating just how good he has been. And the opposition realises the threat he brings to the table.
“If he bats like he did in the first innings, then, yeah,” said Anderson. “Even batting with the tail, it was so hard to keep the tail-enders on strike to have six balls at them. He just managed to find a gap or just managed to get down the other end. I thought the way he batted with the tail was brilliant.
“So, yeah, I mean we need five wickets, it’s as simple as that, and we need them quickly otherwise they’ll get the runs. We’ve just got to give it everything we’ve got in the morning for the first 15-20 overs, leave absolutely nothing out there. It’s a really exciting place to be because you know we could do something special tomorrow by winning this Test match, such a close Test match, so we’ll go to bed dreaming about getting Kohli out first thing.”
Kohli has been inspirational in every sense of the world. And the impact is restricted to not just his team.
“You saw what Virat did to us in the first innings – he hung around with the tail and scored for them and I almost tried to do the same,” said Sam Curran, whose vital 63 got England back into the game.
Just before the start of the Tests, Ravi Shastri (in an interview to ESPNCricinfo) had laid down the gauntlet for the rest of the batsmen.
“What I would like to see is whether we have learned from South Africa. A start of 25 or 30 should be converted into a big partnership,” Shastri said.
So far, the only learning is that they haven’t learnt anything. They are still failing and we are still waiting for Kohli to find a way to take us to victory. And as things stand, that is a scary reality.