When Virat Kohli walked out to bat on a sunny afternoon at Edgbaston, he was met with a chorus of boos. His team had lost a couple of quick wickets after a good start and it was now down to the captain to fix the one black mark against his marvellous career so far: Runs, hard runs, in English conditions.
For Kohli, it was not going to be easy. The bowler facing him at the other end was James Anderson, the man who got him out four times on India’s last tour to England back in 2014. He was bowling an immaculate line and length and Sam Curran was making the ball talk at the other end. It required immense skill and determination for Kohli just to get his innings going.
His first ball, along with several of his first 20, were careful leaves outside the off-stump. India’s superstar knew he was in a battle. The next two hours featured an immensely tense and exciting battle between two masters of their trade. Kohli had to curb his instincts, Anderson had to lure his opposite number into the kind of false stroke that became so common in England four years ago.
Virat Kohli Battles Through To Banish English Demons
The battle was astonishing. Anderson beat both sides of Kohli’s edge on numerous occasions. England’s leading seamer threw everything he had, bowling nine overs before lunch and then six overs straight after, maintaining superb rhythm and consistency. Kohli, however, seemed to have a game plan. He wanted to meet the swing early and he did so by batting out of his crease with a positive stride forward.
It looked like the plan was working a treat. Then, on 21, after previously offering a very difficult chance to Jos Buttler, a false stroke was drawn. Anderson once again shaped the ball away and drew Kohli, after consistently refusing to play, into a half-hearted prod. This time, the chance was much more straightforward. Between the split second of the ball edging off Kohli’s bat to reaching Dawid Malan at slip, Anderson was ready to leap like a Salmon in sheer joy. Unfortunately, Malan grasped the chance low down.
If anything, it was a reality check for Kohli. A reminder that he had to remain incredibly focused because Anderson was not going to give him an inch. If he was not to take Kohli’s wicket, he would not let him get away.
So, Kohli went back into his shell. He left continuously, refusing to be drawn into the sort of stroke that caused him so many problems on his last tour to England and the sort that would have cost him his wicket, had Malan been able to take the chance offered. In addition, Kohli felt no shame in being beaten, he knew that it is part and parcel of playing in England and something that you have to accept to succeed in such conditions. His ego went out of the window and his mature nature took over.
After such a testing period, Kohli battled through. His shot selection was wise and his execution textbook as he moved on serenely. The bad news? He was running out of partners, and fast. With the last recognised batsman in Ravi Ashwin gone, India were still 122 runs behind and Kohli had little choice but to go back to his more recognised and preferred ODI mode. Part of his reputation as a world-class player has come from his astonishing ability to chase down targets with ease. He then played in such manner, producing a glorious array of strokes as he made 92 from 116 balls whilst batting with the tail. The three tail-enders scored a combined 8 off 37 balls.
It became the Kohli show. He went through to his hundred with a rare cut shot off Stokes and soon roared in celebration. It was a huge release of joy from someone who had battled through an incredibly tough period to score one of the great Test centuries. He finally got the monkey off his back – he made runs, tough runs in England. It was those 277 minutes at the crease that truly confirmed him as a player for all conditions and all scenarios.
England finally dismissed Kohli, but not after he made 149 game-changing runs. Not only had he changed certain people’s opinion about him, he had rescued his team from a position where they looked down and out.
The sign of a truly great player is scoring runs in all conditions, in all situations. In order to do so, there are times when a player has to play out of his comfort zone in order to achieve safer waters. And the sight of Kohli battling through the challenges that Anderson and co. offered began to confirm the thought that the Indian captain is a modern great.
After being booed at the start of his innings, Kohli left the field in the afternoon sunshine and was met with huge applause from a crowd who knew they had seen something very, very special.