It was a memorable Test no doubt, among the best seen in recent times, but defeat by 31 runs in the first Test will rankle India. There are four Tests still to be played but England have drawn early blood and will be the more confident, psychologically stronger from here.
The meagre margin of defeat shows how close the contest was. India had their moments — in fact, looked the more likely to win when England were bundled out cheaply in the second — but floundered with victory within grasp.
What was the cause of defeat? Clearly, the batting that, barring the brilliant Virat Kohli, looked tense, insecure and inept in both innings. Failure to chase down 194 in the fourth innings — after not being able to top 300 in the first — exposed severed shortcomings in the top order.
As they’ve done in the last five Tests, India’s bowlers were superb in claiming all 20 wickets. There was also much to cheer when the successful bowlers were all those whose places were seemingly not guaranteed.
Ashwin bowled marvellously to dispel the notion that he can’t take wickets overseas. Six of his seven dismissals were top order batsmen as he spun a web of deceit around them with splendidly controlled variations.
Ishant Sharma scythed through the England batting with a five-wicket haul in the second innings. Mohamed Shami, after a tumultuous past 5-6 months in which he was embroiled in a much-publicised domestic quarrel should have had more than just three wickets to show
Kohli aside the batting top order, however, let these wonderful performances go to waste as it caved in without even a show of spirit or struggle. This is something that Kohli and Shastri will have to address seriously and urgently, what with the next Test a few days away.
With all other batsmen flopping, it became a Kohli versus England contest. In the context of a low-scoring match where bowlers from both sides dominated and batsmen struggled, his contribution was epic. But no team can win regularly if it is dependent on only one batsman.
Kohli rose to the occasion in style, unmindful of the pressure on him. On his last tour to England, he was an abject failure, scoring a paltry 134 runs in 10 innings. In the four years since he has grown into the sport’s biggest star and drawcard. But could he bury the ghosts of 2014 was the looming question.
As captain of the team too now, which increased the expectations — and consequently the pressure — on him manifold, he was facing the biggest and harshest test of his life. He passed it with flying colours.
From the time he ran out Joe Root with a direct throw to stymie England’s progress in the first innings, Kohli stalked the Edgbaston, making it his fiefdom as it were, and became the cynosure of all attention.
He is a gladiatorial personality, and perhaps the only thing sublime about his cricket is his drives in front of the wicket on either side: the timing is usually wondrous, and Kohli picks up gaps so uncannily as to have fielders rooted to their spot.
His marvellous century in the first innings, which ensured that India were not snuffed out prematurely, must rank among not just his best, but also those by an Indian batsman in England. It can be divided into two parts.
The first was essentially about mind over matter. He struggled for timing, rhythm and reading the swing of Anderson & Co. early enough. But he showed grit and intent to not be fazed when beaten or even dropped.
The second part of the innings was about taking complete charge. Once he became secure, he switched gears raising the tempo and tenor to a crescendo with the kind of imperious strokeplay that would have done Viv Richards proud.
For four years, Kohli had brooded over his failure nursed the ambition to score runs in England. In this period, he had also risen to become a batting major domo, but doubts about true greatness lingered.
Now these doubts have been banished. It is not just talent, but also Kohli’s unrelenting ambition and mental toughness that made him do everything to reach the stage he has.
The world’s best batsman: Unquestionably now. Alas, despite a tour de force performance, that he had to finish on the losing side is not without pathos. Life can be cruel....