Going by his performances this year, bowlers must be reconciling to a century from Virat Kohli whenever he walks out to bat these days. The West Indians, of course, suffered twice the trauma, so to speak, as he smashed a double ton at Antigua.
The ‘cricketing’ adjective that describes best Kohli’s current form is ‘Bradmanesque’. This is as much about high scores and centuries as it is about ruthless and authoritative batting, leaving the opposition in despair, dread, but also awe and admiration.
Kohli’s body language is an index to his mindset and vice versa. The disruptive aggression of old has been chiseled and channelized into highly productive energy. He now approaches a cricket match, indeed everything on the field, like a jedi on a mission to win.
Undoubtedly, this is a very weak and ill-balanced (where the bowling is concerned) West Indies side. Yet a double century at any level of the game is a significant milestone: it bespeaks class, fitness, and ambition and character.
This was highlighted in the difference between Kohli’s batting and those of the other Indian batsmen in the same innings. He walked out in a mini crisis, as it were, and within an hour had transformed the pattern of play completely.
There was nary a moment that he looked in trouble; just perhaps twice against short balls which rose suddenly from a length. For the most, Kohli’s innings was so magnificently constructed that one could only marvel at his ability.
Quick to judge length and line, strokes emerged from his blade with a rapidity and fluency that left bowlers and fielders hapless. The repertoire has become fabulously rich too in the past couple of years.
There were caressing cover drives with the bottom hand pronounced, short-arm pulls, ferocious cuts, and of course his favourite on-drive, a flick of the wrist guiding the ball through the vacant spots in the field.
This is a master at work, and I dare say Kohli has not yet reached his peak. If fitness and form hold, one can but only wonder at what he would achieve. I suspect there will be as little respite for statisticians as there is for opponents!
But despite the double century, Kohli’s influence on the first Test (yet) has been more marked as a captain in my opinion. The overall approach has been purposefully aggressive, of course, but it is the decisions to retain Shikhar Dhawan and promote R Ashwin to number 6 that proved more consequential.
Dhawan won his captain’s vote despite iffy form and the pressure brought on him by K L Rahul’s consistent run-getting. A right-left opening combination any captain would prefer, and Kohli was willing to go the extra mile to revive Dhawan confidence.
The left-hander’s talent is undoubted. If anything, he looked a victim of growing self-doubt. In such situation, a captain’s show of faith can be career saving. Dhawan came good with a fine half century, and now needs to justify his captain’s trust with consistency.
Even more significant was the decision to promote Ashwin in the order. I believe this was not just a whim or stop gap measure, but well thought out for the team composition in the long term.
Ashwin has always shown promise as a batsman. By batting him at number 6, Kohli has thrown the gauntlet at the off-spinner to evolve into a genuine all-rounder, something Indian cricket has been seeking since Kapil Dev’s retirement. Ashwin has responded with a century, which is not just personal milestone for him personally, but could reconfigure India’s batting line-up and tactics going ahead: five bowlers can now be played every time without weakening the batting. One can see a perspective at how to become the number 1 Test side emerging already. How soon and whether this will indeed happen only the future can tell. But it is clear where Kohli has set his sights and his efforts are directed, which is laudable....