Kohli’s moment

The latest ICC Test rankings with Virat Kohli as the top batsman provide a curiously apt backdrop to the Indian cricket team’s current tour of England. His ranking was enabled by his 200 runs, 149 in the first innings and 51 in the second, in the first Test in Birmingham which almost took India to victory, but in the event spared the tourists the embarrassment of a crushing defeat. Together, the two overlapping statistics — Kohli’s success in taking command of India’s batting in both innings, even if it fell short of getting the team past the English total, and his ascent up the ICC rankings — frame the juncture the India team is at. Kohli has comfortably asserted his dominance in the abbreviated formats of the game, both One-Day Internationals and Twenty20s. Yet when it came to Tests, despite his 53-plus average, there had always been a debate over the critical distance he needed to traverse from being a very good batsman to being counted among the greats of the modern era. His dismal showing during India’s previous tour of England, in 2014, with just 134 runs from 10 innings, could not be ignored. Kohli is conscious of the need to prove himself in away tours. Once he had spoken of his dream to score a Test ton against Dale Steyn and company in South Africa, and went on to promptly do so in 2013. England presents an especially important challenge to him. For one, it is a personal point to prove against James Anderson, who had in 2014 dismissed Kohli on four occasions. He has clearly learnt to play Anderson, and in Birmingham, his line around the off-stump was either countered with a straight bat and soft hands or left alone.

More importantly, with England having revived the tradition of five-Test series, a victorious English summer has become a measure of a team’s ability to count itself among the best. In the first Test, Kohli’s innings were worthy of being preserved as textbook manuals on batting against crafty fast bowlers. Equally, his leadership qualities were revealed by his skill in shielding the tail as he piled up his 149 in the first innings. The ICC top ranking will likely remain his for some time. With 934 points, Kohli is just marginally ahead of Steve Smith (929), but the Australian is currently serving a one-year ban for ball-tampering and holds no threat; the next two potential challengers, England’s Joe Root (865) and New Zealander Kane Williamson (847), hover far behind. But the remaining four Tests, including the Lord’s fixture that began on Thursday, will determine the Indian skipper’s capacity to seize the moment. Kohli has clearly reclaimed his mojo in England, but in a team sport, he will also have to draw out the best from his whole pack to claim greatness.

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 8:08:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/kohlis-moment/article24646867.ece

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