Virat Kohli’s 22nd Test century was the ‘perfect’ Test innings as it had a bit of everything… including a whole lot of class.
Kohli arrived at the crease with the score at 54-2, with the England bowlers getting pace off the wicket and movement through the air and off the wicket. More importantly, they were putting the ball in the right place, serving the Indian batsmen a great challenge.
Kohli was far from assured early on. He played with caution, carefully waiting it out while he got his eye in, yet still being ready to punish anything loose. He suffered some awkward moments, including being dropped twice in the slips, so it was not an innings of perfection but, rather, a composed one filled with patience and watchfulness – not surprising, considering how his teammates kept losing their wickets at regular intervals.
At the end of the 51st over, India was 171-7. Kohli had scored 58 off 111 balls, while his teammates (and extras) contributing 59 runs during his time at the crease. The rest of the innings took on a totally different flow, as Kohli scored 91 of the 103 runs that followed, before he was caught at backward point (Stuart Broad taking a sharp catch) the ball after smashing Adil Rashid for six.
His innings of 149 off 225 balls, with 22 fours and that one six. Last man Umesh Yadav scored one run out of the 57-run partnership he shared with Kohli, which had come at more than five runs to the over.
Kohli’s innings celebrated the joy of Test cricket: not a whiteball entry to canned music and free-flowing, devil-may-care strokes from ball one. Instead, he built his innings with care, struggled, endured, took runs where available, shouldered arms when needed, and slowly increased his run rate as the innings wore on and the bowlers tired.
When the last three batsmen joined him and he knew the sun was setting on India’s first innings, he allowed himself the opportunity to open up and unleash the full might of his strokeplay without being reckless. The architecture of this innings was Test match perfection, a blueprint for how to approach an innings against some of the best bowlers in the world.
Far too many batsmen at all levels try too hard to score runs too quickly far too early in their innings. They forget that, once your eye is in and the bowlers are tiring in mind, line and length, it becomes far easier to pick up the run rate. Whiteball cricket is changing our mindset in some ways that are good, but in many ways it is eroding the true skill of batting, which is building an innings slowly and, later, accelerating and dominating the bowling.
Kohli’s innings was a masterpiece in this respect, as well as a truly great Test innings considering the quality of bowling as well as the match situation.
With this innings, Kohli became the fourth fastest batsman to reach 22 Test centuries, after Don Bradman (58 innings), Sunil Gavaskar (101) and Steve Smith (108). Kohli reached the mark in his 113th innings, one ahead of Sachin Tendulkar.
Kohli’s 11th Test innings in England saw him more than double the runs he had scored in the previous five-Test series he played in England back in 2014, when his highest score was 39 off 75 balls. The last match of that series saw Joe Root score 149 not out at Kennington Oval, London, as England won by an innings and 244 runs to complete a 3-1 series win.
Much has been made of Kohli’s failings in that series, when he scored just 134 runs at 13.40. However, he was only 25 years old at that stage and, although he had considerable talent and had already proven himself to be a Test star, his record wasn’t a patch of what it has become in the four years since that series.
Perhaps England 2014 was his greatest cricketing education, which makes sense when you consider what happened thereafter.
Kohli’s Test batting over the years
Following that England disaster, Kohli was masterful against Australia, scoring 115, 141, 19, one, 169, 54, 147 and 46. Sadly, it wasn’t enough to change the course of the series, Australia winning 2-0 thanks in large part to Smith’s mighty batting. Smith scored 769 runs (ave 128.16) to Kohli’s 692 (ave 169) during that series.
Sri Lanka and South Africa followed in 2015 and Kohli was good but not ‘Bradmanesque’. The two years that followed have created his legendary status, as he averaged 75 and scoring over 1,000 Test runs in both years, including scoring all six of his double centuries to date. He has yet to record double centuries against two of the mightiest bowling attacks in world cricket – Australia and South Africa – but on current form, you’d expect him to correct that in the next few years.
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