Edgbaston Cricket Ground, Birmingham, is not new to epic cricketing battles. 13 years post that epic encounter in Ashes 2005, Edgbaston was hosting visiting Indian team for the first match in the 5 match series. India, the #1 ranked team in the world and there was a lot of hype around the battle but it won’t be an exaggeration if I say that a mini-battle between 2 players was as anticipated as the test match.
Virat Kohli, the skipper of the visiting team and one of the best test batsman of his generation was visiting England for the 2nd time in his career. 4 years before this, he had a horror time in this country. James Anderson, unarguably the best bowler from and in this country had Kohli for breakfast. Anderson would run in, bowl a few balls in the dreaded corridor of uncertainty and Kohli would nick one of them. Kohli could manage only 134 runs in 10 innings.
Since then, Kohli was a consistent run machine who churned out runs for fun in all the parts of the world. A blockbuster series in Australia was followed by many big ones in the home season. He was also coming from an excellent series in extremely tough conditions in South Africa.
Finally, the test match got underway. England managed 289 after a very promising start. A solid mini stand by Indian openers was followed by a collapse. Debuting Sam Curran knocked over 3 Indian batters in no time.
India 54/2, in walked Virat Kohli and he was greeted by his nemesis. The first ball by Anderson, outswinger outside off stump and Kohli lets it go. 5 more balls in the same area, Kohli defended 2 of them and other 3 were left alone. Meanwhile, India lost another wicket and were 59/3. In came Anderson, big booming outswinger, Kohli chases it and nicks it but it falls short of gully. 5 more balls thereabout, Kohli defends one of them and other 4 are left alone.
Lunch, India 76/3. Ben Stokes to Virat Kohli. 2nd ball is just back of a length and Kohli steers it to third-man for four. 3rd ball, a half volley outside off stump is met by the most perfect bat face. A typical Virat Kohli cover drive that makes you feel like everything is going rather nicely.
Anderson to Kohli and the normal service resumes. An outswinger is nicked by Kohli but falls short of the diving Bairstow and balls runs away to the fence. 3 balls later, the same ball is edged but Kohli’s soft hands ensured that it would fall short of the 2nd slip. 12th ball, an inswinger. It misses the inside edge of Kohli’s bat as well as the stumps.
6 balls later, Anderson bowls a beauty and Kohli nicks it off and for a moment, I said “that is the end of it” but Dawid Malan was unable to hold on to it and Kohli had another life. Anderson, on the other hand, was in despair. Hands-on the knees and looking down at the ground. All his hard work almost brought him the scalp he was looking for but he was denied.
Anderson was taken off the attack after his herculean effort with the ball. Meanwhile, India lost 2 more wickets but Kohli got going. A beautiful square drive to Stuart Broad was followed by a fine leg glance. He got to his fifty by steering a ball from Stokes to 3rd man, his first fifty in England in whites.
Anderson back again. Kohli got a boundary on his 6th ball with the help of another edge. Next ball, Anderson bowled a straight ball and Kohli played all around it, the ball missed his bat and hit his pad. A huge appeal from Anderson but umpires shakes his head. Next over, a snorting inswinger by Anderson cuts Kohli in half as it goes past his inside edge. Kohli was battling it out but was running out of partners. India 182/8.
By now, Kohli was settled. Taking singles and doubles by making use of the gaps in the field and finding boundaries on a consistent basis. 3rd ball of Ben Stokes’s over, short and wide and Kohli puts it past backward point and goes for four. 101 of the most awaited runs. Kohli roars in joy and is offered a standing ovation by the crowd. A big smile on his face but he knew that his job wasn’t done. England still had a healthy lead and onus were on Kohli to wipe it out. He started off by pulling a short ball by Stokes to the boundary. Next 55 balls, he got 44 runs before falling on the eventual score of 149. 15 more than his last 10 innings in England.
GREATNESS OF THE INNINGS AND THE BATTLE
The greatness of that innings lies down in how Kohli changed his game. Most of his test hundreds are chanceless. Giving very little chance to the opposition. Bossing the bowlers, be it Mitchell Johnson or Kagiso Rabada. That day, as Nasser Hussain said, Kohli kept out his ego. Kohli, that day, was a warrior on the battlefield. Every ball which went past his edge and nicked his bat was like a bruise a soldier receives on his body but he still hangs in there knowing that his job isn’t done. He forgets that bruise and digs in deep. Kohli that day looked ugly at times, the last thing you would associate with his batting, but it was that sort of a day.
In most battles, there is a winner and there is a loser. There wasn’t one that day. Even though Kohli got through Anderson without falling down, it wasn’t before Anderson gave him multiple bruises. James Anderson that day, was at his very best. Nagging at that channel, swinging away and moving them back in at Kohli only to be denied by a bit of luck and Kohli’s patience. It was a battle between 2 very fine players who would refuse to give up.
It was some battle. I have never quite seen anything like that day at the Edgbaston, filled with lots of excitement, nerves and finally a lot of emotions and immense satisfaction. Though India lost the test by a small margin and there will be a slight despair every time there are talks about the Edgbaston test, most of us will take Michael Atherton’s, “A remarkable player, has adorned a remarkable day’s Cricket” to our graves.