Virat Kohli had all eyes trained on him ahead of the start of the Test series against England. His poor showing in the team’s previous tour to England in 2014 raised two important questions. One, whether England’s bowlers – read James Anderson – would have Kohli’s measure yet again. And two, whether Kohli would get the mickey off his back this time around.
The first Test at Edgbaston, Birmingham seemed a convenient venue to do so. Considered England’s strongest Test bastion, it was fitting that England would play their 1,000th Test there. And, if Kohli wanted to make a statement of his own, what better place to start than the one upon which the hosts had utmost confidence about?
In the end, while England kept their record intact at Edgbaston with a decisive win over the Indians, the spotlight shone on the Indian captain and his teammates for different reasons.
At the outset of the match, Anderson was expected to come out looking the better player in his rivalry with the Indian, it was as though England had forgotten about the rest of their bowling order. To his credit, Kohli’s didn’t and he made England pay for this initial diffidence steeply in the first innings, in which he top-scored with 149. He was defensive and crouched in his approach when facing Anderson, while he tricked the likes of Stuart Broad, Adil Rashid and Sam Curran to give himself more room to play. It wasn’t a performance tinged with free-flowing shots. It couldn’t have been, given that he was let-down repeatedly by his teammates who lost their wickets cheaply leaving their captain and the team adrift.
Kohli’s efforts in the first innings had made England rethink their strategy for him in the second. But not before he had chipped in with 51 to give India a chance to try and claim a win on the fourth day’s play.
But, across both innings, it was a performance where determination resonated. And somewhere, along the way, it also made way to the bigger picture. Of not just Kohli the player leading a one-man show, but mostly that of a captain sticking his head out to make his team and his country proud. Kohli’s 200 runs in the two Indian innings spoke of motivation beyond the tokenism of wanting to make records. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to note if Kohli were to brush aside the subject of records completely and focus on the result itself and how the team planned to go from here on. Which he did when speaking in the post-match ceremony in a matter-of-fact manner.
Kohli noted, “We definitely need to apply ourselves better with the bat, but England came back superbly, and we need to take the positives and move forward.”
Speaking of the team’s road ahead, Kohli’s aggressiveness would be another aspect which would be pored about. Kohli’s gesture of ‘mic drop’ after he ran out Joe Root on day one was considered both immature and audacious in both parts. The 29-year-old kept up the aggression throughout which also buoyed the team’s morale. In hindsight, though, Kohli’s display of aggression wasn’t channelized by the rest of the team as they needed to. If they had been looking for motivation, they had in the man leading them but not a single player seemed inclined to share responsibilities with the skipper.
Not one batsman stood up in defiance of the English bowlers. The openers didn’t play their part while the middle-order lineup of KL Rahul, Ajinkya Rahane and Dinesh Karthik fumbled about as if they didn’t know what their purpose in the team was in the first place. It was a dismal display of cricket from the world’s best test squad and this also adds to the pressure on Kohli’s shoulders.
Not because he must ensure the team’s rebuilding, but also because he has his opponents on their guard even more strongly than before. As the man-of-the-match Sam Curran pointed out, he had sought to learn from Kohli how to bat in tougher circumstances as much as he tried to learn from the seniors in his team.
“To be honest, I looked to learn from how Virat batted with the tail in the first innings. To be honest, I looked to learn from how Virat batted with the tail in the first innings,” shared Curran.
The biggest point to ponder from this is can the Indian team make a note of this and the significance their captain brings to the table in this series and the rest to follow?