Kohli buries 2014 ghosts, conquers 'final frontier'

Kohli buries 2014 ghosts, conquers 'final frontier'

Virat Kohli. AP/PTI file photo.

One of the major talking points before the series between India and England kicked off was Virat Kohli’s mediocre performance the last time the ace batsman toured the country in 2014. In five Test matches, the right-hander mustered a mere 134 runs with a top score of just 39.

James Anderson first opened him up, bowling the fifth off-stump line repeatedly to dismiss him four times. That nagging length troubled Kohli so much that he, often used to bullying the best of bowlers, ended up being caught at the slip cordon five times. He twice was snapped by the wicket-keeper, twice perished leg-before and was once castled. Of all those dismissals only one was against a spinner — Moeen Ali.

It ruthlessly exposed his weakness against moving the ball, especially the one leaving him, and many questioned his credentials as one of the best batsmen among his contemporaries. Steve Smith and Joe Root were put ahead of him as Test batsmen because they had excelled in all conditions, and which was an acceptable argument. Many reckon greatness is defined only when one dominates in every part of the world in white clothing. And for the last four years Kohli had been waiting to prove it to himself as much as he wanted to do it for his detractors.

He had hit Test centuries in Australia (5), in South Africa (2) and in New Zealand (1) — all difficult places for Asian batsmen —but didn’t have one against his name in England. To borrow a quote attributed to Steve Waugh on India, it was Kohli's "final frontier".  

Before the England series, he declared a few times that he was not obsessed about personal success but was focussed only in helping India win the Test series. However, knowing Kohli, one knew those were just attempts to drive away the focus on him and there was a burning desire inside him to conquer the English conditions. The way he batted on an extremely challenging day of Test cricket where Anderson and Co had India on the mat showed his bloody single-mindedness. It all came out when he square drove to bring his 22nd Test century (149, 225b, 22x4, 1x6), letting out a typical war cry before kissing his wedding ring.

It wasn’t an innings without any blemish. There were at least two genuine “lives” and several edges and uncertain nudges but, as they say, fortune favours the brave.

India’s batting coach Sanjay Bangar hailed Kohli, saying he’s an exceptional player who constantly keeps pushing the boundaries . “He's a versatile player. At times, quality players keep on assessing their own games and where they want to progress. The awareness that is required under certain conditions which may differ from South Africa to Australia to England. Again (he showed) terrific discipline (today). When he bats in that fashion, he more often than not gets the team into good positions. Today he converted.

“His first hundred in England in Tests and he had to wait a long time to get to this. But he made sure he continued even after (getting the century). Passing an individual landmark doesn't mean much to him. If it's a good day for him, he makes sure it's a great day for him and the team. That's why he got 149 and it narrowed down the gap (between us and England) beautifully.”

Bangar reckoned the rest of the line-up should take a note from the skipper. “This individual knock that Virat played might have given him a great sense of satisfaction -- purely the job satisfaction that every professional aspires for. The stand-out part of this innings was that he was always playing close to his body and he waited for the right chances. The way he batted with the tail was a lesson in itself, giving them a bit of confidence, giving them the strike when required. 

“And when the field came up, he went for his strokes. All in all, it might have been very pleasing for him. For us to get that sort of a knock, it's just that if a couple of top order batsmen get their act together and show the same discipline, it's something we are looking forward to.”

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