Today was an innings of two halves for Virat Kohli, who rode his luck before unleashing with violent disdain. Ben Jones analyses a remarkable innings at Edgbaston.
A few years ago, an image went viral on social media. The image was of a dress which, according to who you asked, was either blue and black, or gold and white. Any number of people could look at it and give a different answer, everyone seeing something different to the person next to them. To all intents and purposes, the dress was both blue and black, and white and gold.
There was a similar duality to Virat Kohli’s remarkable century at Edgbaston today. Depending on how you looked at it, it was either the knock where Kohli scored more runs in one day than he did on the entire last tour of England, or the knock where he played more false shots (22) than he’s ever done in his career, barring one innings. It was both historic, and fortunate. It was black and blue, and white and gold.
Because today could go down as the day Kohli tamed English conditions, mastered James Anderson, and completed the challenges Test cricket had to offer. The scorecard would agree, but the actual contest between Kohli and Anderson doesn’t actually tell that story.
The Indian skipper made all the right adjustments that have brought him improved success against swing, including batting 40cm further out of his crease than he did facing Anderson in 2014, but it didn’t serve to improve his returns. He edged 11% of his deliveries from the Lancastrian, faced 87% dot-balls, and should have been caught were it not for an untidy bit of work from Dawid Malan – but he got away with it. Anderson didn’t give the batsman an inch, but Kohli stole one.
Other changes had greater effect. The main technical switch that Kohli has made in recent years to counter the swing, alongside batting out of his crease, has been to score more heavily through the off-side by closing his stance. This kind of attention to detail has characterised his rise to Test supremacy, and was evident today. His half-century saw him score 69% of his runs through the off-side, denying himself almost half the field to score in; he has never made a Test half-century with that many off-side runs before, testament to both England’s patient line outside off-stump and Kohli’s own willingness to win the waiting game, and not play across the line. The 6% attacking shots he’d played as he passed 50 was the lowest for any Test half-century he’s made. It was scrappy, bruising batting, that didn’t look like it could last, the sense being that even if Anderson didn’t get him, someone else would.
Statistically, it shouldn’t have lasted. The average Test batsman plays 12 false shots before being dismissed – Kohli passed that marker early in the afternoon, and ended up not-out having played almost twice as many. All this nervy edging and missing required a degree of luck that most players simply don’t get.
Then all of a sudden, it flipped. Before the dismissal of Ashwin, whilst Kohli was still harbouring hopes of this innings being a team effort, the Indian skipper played 8% attacking shots. As that dream died a death, and he realised that this was going to be a solo mission, he upped it to 49%. From sitting quietly, trying not to get noticed and holding his breath through edges and misses, Kohli stood up and battered England into submission. Post-Ashwin, Kohli scored 92* (116), going through the range of strokes that have lifted him to the position of ODI great. Yet he also showed superb red-ball skills in the way he shepherded the tail, with immense skill – in his 50 partnership with Umesh Yadav, the latter contributed just one run, in 10 balls.
This was two knocks in one. It was a groggy, punch-drunk effort, admirable for a long time for a kind of morbid quality, yet it was also a fluent, swaggering counter-attack to drag the game into the balance. It was a lucky streak, and an indomitable marker. It was a day when he was fortunate to be standing, but it was a day when nobody else stood up. The next highest score was 26, and when Ben Stokes removed Dinesh Karthik, India’s WinViz for this match dropped to 26% – when Kohli walked off India were slight favourites. Nobody else put India in that position. Apart from Virat Kohli.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.