Brilliant Virat Kohli punishes England to hand India initiative

Adil Rashid’s drop proves costly as tourists made to toil on opening day of second Test

Virat Kohli’s unbeaten 151 put India firmly in control after the first day of the second Test against England. Photograph: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

Virat Kohli’s unbeaten 151 put India firmly in control after the first day of the second Test against England. Photograph: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

 

India 317-4 (India won the toss and chose to bat)

The engine started coughing in mid-afternoon and there was no nice man in a van to come to the rescue. After cruising through the Rajkot Test with barely a splutter, England began spinning out of control as Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara added 226 together for the third wicket with ruthless efficiency. As a consequence India, 317-4 at the close, ended the first day in charge.

It is always tempting – and maybe a bit unfair – to identify a moment when it all started to go awry, but there was an obvious one. On 132-2, in steamed Ben Stokes – and he was steaming. The wicket was so slow and so reluctant to offer any deviation that he decided to bang the ball into the middle of the pitch. There would be a gentle bouncer battle with the field set accordingly – almost.

By now Kohli was on 56 and fiercely determined to start making amends for a remarkably poor record against England – he had only passed 50 (and then a 100) in the Test at Nagpur four years ago. Kohli went for the pull shot; the ball took the top-edge of the bat and sailed towards Adil Rashid at long-leg. It was a very difficult catch with the ball only just reaching the fielder. Rashid could not hold on.

He was at fault but so too was Alastair Cook. If Stokes was going to try a little bumper barrage the long-leg boundary was the likeliest place for the catch to come; Rashid is England’s flakiest fielder; he should have been somewhere else; in Stokes’ next over he was as Jimmy Anderson was sent to patrol that boundary. By then the sound of galloping hooves was barely audible. Such attention to detail – or lack of it – can sometimes dictate the outcome of matches.

After Kohli’s reprieve, England lost their discipline and some of their zest. Stokes was still steaming and, like the others, he knew that on a pitch like this chances would be few and far between on the first day. And so they were. In the next hour the runs flowed too freely, the anticipated nightmare in broad daylight.

Stuart Broad, harbouring a cut wrist and a painful foot, did his best to atone for the limitations of the attack. Zafar Ansari could only be trusted for two overs – for 19 – in his second spell, his action mechanical and creaking a little under pressure. Moeen Ali, late into the attack and out of sorts, yielded 13 from another over and Cook had to turn to Rashid to bowl the stock overs, which was never the original plan. To be fair, Rashid offered his captain more control than any of the other spinners – just look at the first column of his analysis and it shows that he was entrusted with more overs than the other two put together. That may just be construed as progress on a day when England’s campaign went backwards.

Eventually Anderson, back in the side for the first time since August in place of the rotated Chris Woakes, managed to remove Pujara, but not before he had reached his fourth century against England, another silky-smooth innings, notable for his consummate control of the spinners and some harum-scarum running between the wickets, which left his shirt looking like that of a prop forward after a collapsed scrum.

Just before the close Anderson also dispatched Ajinkya Rahane with the second new ball. Kohli, meanwhile, was imperious. He drove anything over-pitched to the boundary, routinely bissecting the field; he rarely bothered with the aerial route against the spinners.

One early lofted drive against Ansari was so authoritative that Cook was inclined to push his men back. Just occasionally a short ball from the pacemen found Kohli in a tangle. He barely celebrated his hundred; he looked a man on a mission not just to correct the aberration that is his record against England but also to ensure that his side would be practically impregnable after just one day’s play. There seems to be an even greater intensity about his batting now that he is captain.

So there would be no squandering of winning the toss with Kohli still at the crease, even though England managed to remove both openers within five overs. India had made two changes from the team at Rajkot, with the off-spinner, Jayant Yadav, making his Test debut when replacing Amit Mishra, and Gautam Gambhir giving way to KL Rahul.

There was no obvious benefit from the latter change since Rahul sparred outside his off-stump in Broad’s first over to present a sharp chance to Stokes at third slip. Murali Vijay unveiled four princely boundaries off the front foot but was then confounded by an Anderson bouncer, which was ballooned gently to Stokes in the gully off his gloves.

But thereafter England’s best chance of a wicket stemmed from the possibility of a run out between the ponderous Pujara and the fleet-footed Kohli, who looked as if he was capable of completing a triathlon as he made his way back to the pavilion at the close. By then there was no fleetness in the feet of the English bowlers – especially their pacemen.

Given his long absence, Anderson had coped exceptionally well upon his return on a featherbed pitch – though that may change. He drew upon his vast experience, delivering just a few more stray deliveries than normal and picking up three of the four wickets to fall.

But by the close Broad, who bowled 12 overs, was hobbling around uncomfortably. His triathlon was extricating himself from the field, bending down and removing a painful boot.

(Guardian service)

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