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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 August 2018

Virat Kohli stands apart from the rest to drag India into contention against England

India captain's century knock at Edgbaston helps the tourists get within touching distance after Day 2

Virat Kohli celebrates his century on Day 2 at Edgbaston. AP Photo
Virat Kohli celebrates his century on Day 2 at Edgbaston. AP Photo

Virat Kohli vs Joe Root? Virat Kohli vs The Rest, more like. The rest of England. The rest of the world. And anyone else who wants to have a go. Bring it on.

The Indian batting marvel does not seem like the sort to be affected by crowd chirping, other than perhaps to use it for motivation.

When he went to the crease on Day 2 of the Edgbaston Test, he was roundly booed by a large number of home supporters, presumably piqued by his mocking, mic-drop send off for Root a day earlier.

The animosity did not last the day. The magnificence of a century that dragged India from a hopeless position to one poised menacingly on the shoulder of their hosts meant the barrackers melted away. Universally, they became admirers.

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When he reached three figures, he was met with the sort of ovation that suggested all were well aware they were witnessing genius at work.

There was no bat-drop of his own – more’s the pity. Instead, he picked the wedding ring from the chain around his necked, and kissed it. Then he set about continuing his one-man masterclass.

Kohli had been on 67 when Ishant Sharma arrived at No 10, and India were still 105 short of England’s first innings total of 287. By the time Ishant departed, flummoxed by a googly by Adil Rashid, his captain was three short of his century. He had dragged his side to within 70 by that point.

Somehow, he added another 52 to his personal tally, sharing an alliance with last man Umesh Yadav worth 57. Yadav contributed just a single. India had got to within 13 of England.

The captain was the only Indian batsman to provide any resistance or application. The next best, Shikhar Dhawan, managed a mere 26.

It was a day when the batsmen – Kohli apart – were unable to deal with lateral movement. All of which revealed the folly behind the decision with Cheteshwar Pujara.

The sixth-best rated batsman in the world was stood down for this match, on account of meagre form plus, apparently, his slow strike-rate. How India could have done with his stickability in Birmingham.

The fact Pujara has been light on runs is not through want of trying. The last time India played a Test, they had won the game so quickly Pujara was able to squeeze in another match, in another country, before the scheduled end.

He doubled up his match fee for the Test against Afghanistan in Bangalore in June with that for a one-day match for Yorkshire, 8,000km away in England.

That two-day win over the Afghans was so facile maybe India conned themselves into believing Test cricket was easy. It is not. Especially under cloud in Edgbaston, with the world’s best bowler in opposition.

James Anderson bowled 22 overs for his two wickets, far more than anyone else on show – even though Sam Curran picked up most wickets for the home team, and Ben Stokes was threatening.

But Anderson against Kohli was the big ticket. The world’s top-ranked bowler against its highest rating active batsman. It was a treat.

By the time Kohli reached his century, he had played just three attacking shots all day against Anderson. Maybe the day was his, but time will tell if the Test is, too.

For now, he can reflect with satisfaction that his game, if not his side’s, is in good working order. His 149 means he has already scored more runs than he managed in all five Tests the last time he toured England with India.

His day was topped off when Ravi Ashwin dismissed Alastair Cook in exactly the same fashion he had a day earlier, leaving England on nine for one at stumps, a lead of just 22.

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