NOTTINGHAM: There can never be anything inevitable about a Test century. But the form Virat Kohli is in these days, he is making us believe such things are commonplace.
But for a brief phase in the 90s on Monday when Keaton Jennings dropped him at fourth slip and the ball dropping short of Alastair Cook the very next delivery, Kohli (103) was a figure of authority as India completely ground out England from the game. His 23rd Test century took a couple of sessions to come as India set the hosts a massive 521-run target.
The nine overs that India gave England to negotiate towards the fag end of the day were really difficult ones. Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma steamed in with the brand new ball under lights, leaving Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings under severe interrogation. There were those near misses and the inside edges that missed the stumps as the Indian slip cordon jumped around like a cat on a hot tin roof.
The two overs of offie R Ashwin, where he got the ball to leave the left-handers, too were an indication of what is to follow for England in the next two days. But Cook (9 batting) and Jennings (13 batting) survived that phase to reach 23/0 and keep things alive for the hosts on the fourth day.
But at the start of the third day, the English pace attack lacked the spring in their stride. With the Indian lead already 292, they had their backs to the wall and for large periods of time, it seemed they were going through the motion. But that doesn’t take anything away from the Kohli effort. The Indian captain, in the company of Cheteshwar Pujara (72 off 208 balls), decided to put his head down and wait for the opportunity.
Though England maintained a tight line outside the off-stump, with no pressure of runs playing on the back of their minds, Kohli and Pujara both looked comfortable. They left quite a bit outside off, looked assured while playing close to their body and were prepared to play time. While it helped Pujara gain some confidence, Kohli explored the defensive qualities in his batting. When English captain Joe Root understood that would be difficult to dislodge the duo, he decided to bring leggie Adil Rashid and himself on. It made things even more comfortable for both Kohli and Pujara and they kept nudging forward.
Pujara should have completed his century too but Ben Stokes got one to straighten and catch the nick of the right-hander’s bat. After that, there were two interests left in the contest — Kohli’s century and India’s time of declaration. Right after tea, Kohli reached the milestone with a push on the offside after a minor flutter. The punch in the air suggested that he was happy, more so after missing out on the ton in the first innings. A little later Chris Woakes had Kohli leg-before with one that cut back off the seam, but by then his job was done.
There were demands of declaration going around the ground once the skipper was dismissed, but Kohli allowed Hardik Pandya (52 no) to help himself to a half-century against a demotivated attack in the same Test match he had taken five wickets.
With still some life left in the English second innings, Pandya might have the chance to add a bit more to his wickets’ tally and push for the MoM award.