India and England will complete their unfinished 2021 Test series this week at Edgbaston. India is leading the series 2-1 after their two wins…
It was some time in late 2009 that India played yet another ODI series against Sri Lanka.
I lived in the USA during that time and did not closely follow this oft repeated India versus Sri Lanka ODI series.
I took notice of the result of one game in Kolkata. India had chased down a mammoth total, and the young Virat Kohli had scored a century alongside Gautam Gambhir.
I had followed Virat since he shot into the limelight by leading India’s under-19s team to a World Cup victory.
However, his international ODI debut in 2008 was lacklustre, and so was his Indian Premier League debut.
I dismissed him as another failed import from the under-19s team. But this Kolkata innings changed my view on him a little bit.
Then towards the end of 2010 and early 2011, Virat rattled off century after century in ODIs, some of them chasing big totals.
In the 2011 IPL season, I distinctly remember the way the ball would fly off his bat: sheer timing.
At that moment, I knew that an exceptional cricketing career was in bloom. Soon, Virat made it to the India World Cup squad in 2011.
After a successful World Cup campaign, his Test debut beckoned.
The flowering of a master batsman
Virat travelled to the Caribbean to play his first Test series. Fidel Edwards welcomed the debutant on a reasonably fast and bouncy Sabina Park pitch with a barrage of short-pitched deliveries.
Virat looked all at sea and fell victim to the West Indian in both the innings. Virat’s troubles continued in the next couple of Tests as well. So he lost his place in the team for the English summer of 2011.
Virat came back to the Test team to play the West Indians, once again, at home. He scored 50s in the Mumbai Test and announced his presence in Test cricket.
Soon, he was on a flight to Australia. Virat failed in his first Test at the MCG. Before the next Test in Sydney, Sanjay Manjrekar wrote the now-infamous tweet, “I would still drop VVS & get Rohit in for next Test. Makes long-term sense. give Virat 1 more Test..just to be sure he does not belong here”.
I would have loved to write that Virat shut Sanjay up with a ton in Sydney. Things do not work out that way often. However, I did not have to wait for too long.
Virat showcased his ability to handle pace with a 75 in the WACA Test. Then came his maiden century in his soon-to-be favourite ground in Australia, the beautiful Adelaide Oval.
Virat’s century came in dire circumstances for the team on the verge of a clean sweep. With this century and that celebration full of Ben Stokes’ name, Virat announced himself to the Test cricketing world.
What a treat this man would dish out to us over that decade.
Virat followed up his breakthrough century with centuries at home against New Zealand, England, and Australia.
Despite scoring a century in the final Test of the 2012 series against England, Virat showed some signs of trouble against James Anderson and co with low scores.
This spot of bother against the English bowlers would balloon into a full-blown disaster when India toured England in 2014.
Before his tryst with James Anderson in 2014, Virat established himself as the mainstay of the Indian batting unit with centuries in South Africa and New Zealand.
Virat Kohli landed in England in 2014 for a five-Test series that summer with a big reputation and a huge ego. However, James Anderson and co had marked Virat for a special swing and seam bowling exhibition.
Virat Kohli searched for the ball at the fifth and sixth stump line only to offer the edge of his bat to the ball.
When Virat was at the crease, the Englishmen in the slips couldn’t catch a break. Virat came down to earth with a thud, averaging 13.40 runs in ten innings.
However, instead of taking Virat’s career down, this disastrous series would spur him on to such greatness that was rarely seen since the times of Sachin Tendulkar or Sunny Gavaskar.
In 2014, India were ranked number seven in Test cricket at the start of this Australian series. During the 2011 to 2014 period, the team had endured multiple series losses abroad and a rare defeat at home.
MS Dhoni decided that he had enough of Test cricket and gave up the captaincy to Virat.
Virat celebrated his arrival as Test captain with twin centuries in Adelaide. These twin centuries led India close to a miraculous victory and etched his name firmly in the hearts of the Aussie and Indian fans.
He followed them up with centuries at the MCG and the SCG. Even though India lost this series in Australia, this tour made Virat a hero in cricket-crazy Australia.
2018 – Peak Virat, the batsman
Between 2015 to 2017, India played mostly at home and in Sri Lanka. Virat piled on the runs, scoring six double centuries and five centuries in this period.
The 235 that he scored against England in Mumbai is the best among the lot. Virat scored a lot of these 235 runs alongside lower-order batters.
Virat looked impregnable in defence and unstoppable on the offence. Astonishingly, Virat had a higher level that he would display in the following year.
The year 2018 was a keenly watched year in Indian cricket as this year included three away tours to South Africa, England, and Australia.
From the start of Virat’s tenure as captain, India had focused on building up a potent Test fast bowling unit. Bowlers such as Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah hit their straps under him.
After the disastrous England tour of 2014, Virat had a point to prove to his naysayers in swinging and seaming conditions.
So India were keen to produce their best away results in this period.
The first demonstration of Virat’s peak power came in the second Test at Centurion. The innings was punctuated with his now trademark cover drives that showed that he had conquered the demons that lived outside his off stump.
Virat had adjusted his technique to move closer to the off stump to meet the ball closer than flaying at it with his hands.
Now, Virat dispatched the deliveries on the fifth and sixth stump line to the cover boundary. When the bowlers bowled closer to the stumps, he whipped them to his favourite legside for boundaries.
If seam in Centurion did not bother him, an awkwardly bouncing pitch at the Wanderers held no demons for him either.
A 50 and a 40 on that brute of a pitch sent warning signals to the English bowlers that Virat was ready to conquer the British Isles.
Virat fired the opening salvo at Edgbaston with a masterful 149 in the first innings that showed the English public and Jimmy Anderson that he had come to play cricket in England.
That innings was full of drives on the offside as the English fast bowlers continued to ask him questions on the fifth or sixth stump line.
Virat’s rich vein of form continued in England as he rattled off a 97 and a hundred in the Trent Bridge Test. He also had two 50s and 40s in the other Test matches in the series.
In summary, Virat scored 593 runs during the English summer and did not give his wicket to Jimmy Anderson all through the series.
It was a remarkable turnaround of performance. Even though India lost the series, Virat came out of England being anointed the best batsman globally. The best was yet to come.
The Border Gavaskar trophy in 2018 was the crowning glory for Virat, the captain. He became the first Indian captain to win a Test series in Australia.
Virat, the batter, was not far behind. The century on the fast seaming pitch in Perth was a treat to watch while his compatriots struggled to come to grips with the pitch.
He followed it up with an 82 at the MCG that gave India the series-leading win. The year 2018 went down as the annus mirabilis for Virat Kohli.
2020-2022: The retreat from rarified heights
Virat Kohli continued his rich vein of form in 2019. But he was hardly tested at home by the hapless tourists.
Virat started the year 2020 hoping to register his first win in New Zealand. However, the Kiwis had other ideas.
The Kiwi swing bowlers identified a chink in the new technique of Virat and now looked to get him LBW with the in-swinger.
They had him LBW twice in the four innings and continued to trouble him the same way in the World Test Championship final as well.
The 2020 NZ series was the first significant failure for Virat Kohli since the English series in 2014. Unlike the defiant face he put up after the 2014 failure, Virat looked disturbed and beaten at the end of this series in 2020.
The doubts that the Kiwis introduced into his game continued to plague him throughout the next two years.
Even though Virat made a few solid 50s in England and South Africa, those innings lacked the fluency that was his trademark during his halcyon days.
Virat looked like a good Test player when he played these innings, not that great player whose swagger once matched the great Viv Richards.
To make matters worse, he did not hit a century during this period – a steep fall from those rarified heights of 2018.
Virat at 100
Virat will play his 100th Test match in Mohali against the Sri Lankans. Virat will be expected to crown his 100th Test with a century despite his recent troubles at the crease.
I have often compared Virat Kohli to the great Ricky Ponting. Their batting styles and temperament could not be any more different.
Indian fans would hope Virat emulates Ponting and celebrates his 100th Test with a century, if not twin centuries, like Ponting did in his 100th Test.
A hundred in his 100th would be a fitting performance to crown what has already been a hall-of-fame career for India.