Curbing instinct, Virat Kohli sets record straight in second innings

To top it was the insinuation that Virat Kohli was pulling a WG Grace – standing his ground despite being bowled during India’s first innings.

Did Kohli have any right to question the legitimacy of his dismissal? We don’t know what was going through his mind then, but a good guess would be that the most prolific batsman of our time, a man who takes immense pride in his craft, was in shock at losing his wicket in such an absolute manner.

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The cover drive is Kohli’s bread and butter, a shot central to his “playing in the ‘V’ ploy”, a successful run-compiling strategy cutting across formats. He may have been wrong in attempting the shot too early into his innings on a trying subcontinent pitch but even the best make mistakes.

The last time England came to India, Kohli bulldozed their bowling to pile up 655 runs in eight innings. To be clean bowled like that, with all that history and records to validate his greatness must have pricked Kohli’s pride. Nothing fuels Virat Kohli more than his pride.

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So when the second innings came, Kohli was ready to set the record straight. For 200 minutes, he provided a masterclass on how to bat on a pitch with vicious turn – stretching forward full-length or retreating deep into his crease, keeping his eyes peeled on the ball at all times and being decisive in every shot selection. There were no half-measures; neither in defence nor in offence. All of that filtered through unwavering focus and patience.

For starters, Kohli took 20 balls to get off the mark, the second slowest in his Test career (29 balls v England at Ahmedabad in Nov 2012). Not till his 24th delivery did Kohli score a boundary. And not before the 103rd delivery of his innings (he faced 149) had Kohli attempted the sweep.

It was an innings that spoke of the keenest level of observation, one where Kohli looked to line up shots based on the length of the ball – nudging, punching and glancing balls till he had the confidence to go for more expansive shots. The ones outside his range were left alone. The straighter ones, like those bowled by Moeen Ali, were blocked neatly. But it was really his differing stance to two types of spin – Ali’s off-break and Jack Leach’s left-armer – that made Kohli’s knock so instructive.

To Ali, Kohli tried to go across his off-stump so that he could play the spin more adjacent to his body. The advantage of such a stance is that even if you are hit trying to sweep or playing towards the on-side, the leg-before is taken out of the equation since the impact will be outside off-stump. England captain Joe Root was seen attempting the same much later in the day when the tourists were trying to survive India’s spin onslaught.

Against Leach, Kohli stayed on his leg-stump to allow for a clean view of the spin, or the lack of it. This also meant Kohli had that extra millisecond to decide whether to stay on the backfoot and punch or whip it off his pads, or plant his front foot outside the line and play inside-out. There was heavy use of the bottom-hand as well, Kohli deploying it several times to hit through the line – the best was thumping a half-volley from Leach down the ground for a boundary. The speed with which the England spinners were bowling mattered too. Unlike Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel, who both averaged close to 90km/hr in both innings, Ali and Leach were slower in the air, around 80km/hr. It allowed for better footwork from the Indians, especially Kohli, as he helped his team get out of jail after they were 86/5 in the morning session.

That 96-run partnership with Ashwin was all about understanding the pace of England’s spinners and adjusting the scoring areas accordingly. There were some easy pickings in the form of full tosses. But Kohli had to earn his runs otherwise. More than half of his 62-run innings came in the forms of singles and twos. Twice he ran three, a rather difficult feat on shorter Indian grounds. What could have flourished into one of the finest centuries on a difficult pitch was nipped when Ali again got Kohli with a length ball that turned and bounced. But India’s innings had been steadied by then. Kohli returned, knowing his pride had been salvaged.

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