By Kishan Vaghela
England’s travails in India have so far mirrored how the hosts will shape up under Virat Kohli. Some sticky situations which require the grit and determination from the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli himself, who at times was tactically at fault as captain, have been commensurate with brilliance from the latter with the bat and mainly from Ravichandran Ashwin with the ball.
India’s fluctuating performance levels have coincided with a rather peculiar pitch in Vizag. Day two did not see the extravagant turn that was forecast at the toss, but rather variable bounce would prove to derail the efforts of the batsmen and ensure Kohli’s unbeaten run as India captain extended to 15 games, overtaking Mohammad Azharuddin’s 14-match undefeated achievement.
However, the pitch played very little part in the Indian captain’s approach, only managing to accentuate his stature in the modern game. A magnificent and well-compiled 167 in the first innings on an albeit still batsmen-friendly wicket once again saw his ability to combine a consolidation period with Pujara with outright consummate flair and multiplicity of stroke play, particularly against the spin of Adil Rashid.
The importance of what will evidently turn out to be a less memorable 81 from the 28-year-old cannot be understated, again coming in under pressure after James Anderson and Stuart Broad’s destructive opening spell to set England 405 runs for victory in the final innings.
Much like England’s batting collapses, which Michael Vaughan has described as a “little disease” inside the dressing room, India’s over-reliance on Kohli is an all too familiar tale. Pujara’s first-innings century may suggest otherwise, but his loose waft outside the off stump both in Vizag and in Rajkot have raised questions as to when he will return to accumulate those double-century scores.
Ajinkya Rahane has struggled so far this series, whilst neither Murali Vijay nor the returning KL Rahul could impose themselves at the top of the order this time around. Ashwin and Jayant Yadav’s contributions with the bat are of enormous value to the hosts, but a reliance on them, along with the likes of Wriddhiman Saha and Ravindra Jadeja, is a dangerous tightrope for India to walk for future tours in India and abroad.
One constant will remain in the those following tours, and that is the consistency of their skipper, who yearns for runs all over the globe. Nine of his 14 centuries have come overseas, and one tour of England aside, he has risen to every single challenge placed in his path. Perhaps he may receive rather contemptuous looks from overseas, not averse to verbal battles in addition to the more pertinent clash on the field.
But somebody who, in years gone by, may have drawn criticisms as a whippersnapper, a forthright and borderline subversive character, has developed into a more prudent captain who, at the same time, has not completely dispensed with the brashness that was symbolic of his meteoric rise to the very top of world cricket. There is no current better example of this than his use of the DRS system so far, initially bowing to Ashwin’s exhilarating demeanour which counted against him, before making more meticulous decisions with the technology at hand.
One such referral, which concluded the match in dismissing Anderson, would have sparked jubilant and euphoric actions from a young Kohli. This more mature Indian talent raised a fist, but, just as for his century, was otherwise composed and gracious in celebration.
Many now struggle to find superlatives to describe him. The Virat Kohli era of Indian cricket has been under way for some time and will continue to be an enormous success. An extremely different personality to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and never one to sit on the peripheries, he endears himself to the faithful at home with his passion and desire for victory, whether he is facing Pakistan or Zimbabwe, in Test match cricket or the Twenty 20 format.
Of course there were mistakes made tactically in Rajkot and Vizag, and on another day not having a short leg for Alistair Cook, for example, may have more serious consequences on the outcome of the game.
Nevertheless, India’s historic inability to take 20 wickets has never truly surfaced yet under him. The spinners led the charge in Vizag, but Mohammed Shami’s stump-breaking delivery to dismiss Alistair Cook in the first innings before using the new ball to rid Joe Root in the second were of equal importance.
England’s bowling performance was no less stunning, with Adil Rashid’s leg-spin an undoubted positive, but they will rue Cook’s recent misfortune at the coin toss in comparison to his Indian counterpart.
Ben Duckett’s difficulty against off-spin is the visitors’ biggest batting conundrum given Ashwin and Jayant Yadav’s presence in the opposite dressing room, with possible replacement Gary Balance having already been dropped this winter in Bangladesh, whilst Jos Buttler’s defensive issues and lack of match practice are major concerns given the magnitude of the following Test in Mohali.
Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow hold further importance down the order and have shown their value in sub-continental conditions, and 19-year-old Haseeb Hameed has demonstrated with abundance his mental and technical capacity at Test level.
England will come again at India with renewed vigour despite the result in Vizag, and being the only side to overturn a 1-0 deficit in a series in India in recent memory will settle their nerves heading to one of the country’s most prominent commercial hubs.