Virat Kohli shows Test cricket batting is a battle of two horses
This innings will stand out from all others Kohli has played, and no, not because it was his highest Test score yet.
Melbourne. Sydney. Jamaica. Antigua. Visakhapatnam.
There is a common thread among these five venues that hosted India’s latest run of Tests. For those nine innings, Virat Kohli didn’t score a hundred as India went on an unbeaten run against Australia, West Indies and South Africa. Now, it is not a given for him to get three-figures every time he bats. But we have come to expect high standards from the master batsman.
Sample this. Kohli’s conversion rate in Test cricket is awe-inspiring. He has 22 half-centuries and 26 centuries, counting the one scored in Pune on Friday. It is staggering to think that Kohli has gone past the 50-mark 48 times in his Test career and his conversion rate is higher than 50 per cent. In other words, over the course of 138 innings in 81 Tests, Kohli scores a half-century every 2.8 innings. And converts those fifties to a century every 1.8 innings!
You would want to compare him with Don Bradman or Sachin Tendulkar. Well, with a seventh double hundred in Test cricket, he has left them both behind, atleast in terms of statistics. Comparing two eras is a silly proposition, but there can get no doubting Kohli’s claim to the tag of best batsman in world cricket.
Let it be said here, across formats, there is no one who matches Kohli for consistency or stroke play. How does he do it, though? Well, to begin with, there is a common textbook play at work in all three formats. He gets going quickly with a few boundaries, settles in and runs hard, and once that start has been achieved, he plays the long hand. In limited-overs’ cricket, this mode allows him to quickly move on to 30s and 40s without the opposition even realizing it. In Tests, it allows him to dig deep for the long haul.
And Kohli brought out this textbook with him to the MCA International Stadium with not a single page missing. It was an exact copy of the aforementioned template and he set out about his job with ease on day one evening. The motive was simple – see out the day whilst steadying the team’s position because India were playing a batsman short. At stumps on Thursday, he was placed on 63* off 105 balls, a strike-rate of 60.
Then, as he notched up his 26th hundred off 173 balls just after lunch, it was a strike-rate of 57.8. The general rule of thumb is the more time a batsman spends at the crease, the strike-rate increases and the runs flow easily. Even so, the aim for on day two morning was to see that first hour out and drop the anchor to bat South Africa out of the game. Kohli aced these dual points to perfection.
This is where the game changed for both India and South Africa. In the first part of his innings, he had Ajinkya Rahane for company, who has this newfound method of starting slow. There was a time when he would counter-attack and get on top of the bowling. But he has tightened his game in the past six months, which helped Kohli – and in turn – India settle down after they were reduced to 198-3.
In the second part of his innings, when there was need to change gears after the century, Kohli had Ravindra Jadeja who was promoted in the order to do some damage to South Africa’s spin. While Jadeja got going, Kohli just shrugged and upshifted – his third 50 came off 68 balls, then the fourth off 50 balls, and then he pushed further, bringing up another 54 runs off 41 balls. When India needed acceleration, Kohli went from third to fourth to fifth gears without breaking a sweat.
The staggering bit here is that the Kohli-Jadeja stand was worth 225 off 237 balls. Almost run-a-ball, when was the last time we saw such dominance for a pair of batsmen? It was too bad that only 7000-odd fans witnessed Kohli’s class and Jadeja’s attacking display. Even so, the best in business aren’t flustered by such distractions.
It is also why this innings will stand out from all others Kohli has played, and no, not because it was his highest Test score yet. From the moment he came out to bat on day one, Kohli was set on a big score. It showed in his eyes, in his stance, in how he closely watched the ball, in the way he played every shot to the perfect percentage and in the way he ran with calculated purpose. In summation, he simply didn’t make any wrong moves, a chanceless double hundred if there ever was one.
Witnessing his master-class, the reality of today’s Test cricket dawned loud and bright. In this bowler-friendly era, two batsmen simply stand out. Steve Smith, with his Ashes’ brilliance this summer, had upped the ante of batting in the longer format. There was nothing wrong in celebrating his genius as arguably the best Test batsman at present.
Alternately, there was also need of a response, nay, a timely reminder as to who stands on the other side of this argument. This double hundred amply served that purpose then. There are two lions roaring out loud in this jungle, and are headed for a fiery showdown.
Who is the better Test batsman – Smith or Kohli? We will know soon, for 2020 – and India’s tour of Australia next winter – cannot come about soon enough.