In the battle of the batters in what is currently cricket’s most compelling series, Joe Root has cast a shadow on the struggling Virat Kohli, who desperately needs to arrest his mediocrity, writes RYAN VREDE .
Big players define big series and there are few bigger than Root and Kohli.
It goes without saying that winning a five-Test series requires the strong collective effort, with new and unexpected heroes emerging as the series marches on.
However, the elite are that for a reason. Their gifts and the consistent exhibition thereof forms the bedrock of any successful series.
Root, through his start in the series, a gritty 64 in an underwhelming team total of 183, and a defiant 109 as England sought to set the tourists a total that would put them under pressure, has inadvertently made a major statement to Kohli.
Root was masterful, negotiating what became a clear early plan of trying to set him up for an LBW, through a delivery tailing back late. In-game analysis showed such deliveries have accounted for him more than any other in his career.
Root would have been acutely aware of this, and during this early period was visibly intent on not allowing his head to fall to the off-side, and to hit down the ground, as opposed to through midwicket. When set at the crease, it appeared that only a mental lapse or a gem of a delivery would dismiss him.
In eight innings coming into the Test in Nottingham, the England captain has looked a shadow of the player currently on show. He averaged 30.7 in that period, marginally worse than Kohli in the same period (30.8).
Yet it feels like Kohli’s problems run deeper and his is a recovery that will demand a depth of mental application and technical reform that Root never required.
A first-ball duck in the first innings compounded the pressure on India’s favourite cricket son, who hasn’t scored a Test century since November 2019.
Root’s has had a strong calendar year despite his struggles coming into the series, scoring two first-innings double centuries (228, 218), injected by a score of 186, against Sri Lanka in Galle in February.
There is significance in this. Root, in 47 Tests, averages nearly 48 away from home. The gap between his home and away average is 2,75 (50.15 vs 47.40).
Tellingly, gap between Kohli’s home and away average is 20.59 (64.31 vs 43.72). He has played just two more Tests on the road.
One feels like, in this context, this series has become a defining one in Kohli’s career. It would be hyperbolic to say that Kohli is under pressure for his place. He remains the prized wicket in England’s minds, evidenced by James Anderson’s celebration when he found Kohli’s edge first up.
However, Kohli knows he is under pressure to arrest his mediocrity. His team looks to him for inspiration. When he is playing well, he has a galvanising effect on those around him and a debilitating effect on the opposition.
He is the type of player whose self-belief will endure. Indeed, Kohli been here before and recovered. This fells different though. This somehow feels more significant, as if it will shape not only the series, but the next chapter of Kohli’s career.
Root meanwhile rolls on without these concerns. At just 30 years old, he has the top 10 Test run scorers of all time in his sights. He is 2460 runs short of the 10th-placed Allan Border. Privately he will believe he can surpass the greatest English batsmen in history, Alastair Cook.
He needs in excess of 4000 runs to do that. It feels, inevitable.