It’s Kohli and Ashwin against England

By Kersi Meher-Homji

The first Test between India and England in Birmingham began only two days ago (on 1 August) but what twists and turns in those roller-coaster days!

India’s vibrant captain Virat Kohli has been behind India’s fight back on both days when England looked on top. On the first day England was going great guns at 3 for 216 with skipper Joe Root (80) and wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow (70) adding 104 for the fourth wicket.

Root looked all set to reach his 14th Test century when Kohli ran him out from deep mid-wicket with a direct throw amid effusive on-field celebrations. This started a collapse and England lost her last seven wickets for 71 runs to be dismissed for 287. Off-spinner Ravi Ashwin captured 4 for 62 and fast-medium Mohammed Shami 3 for 64.

It was the other way around for India. They started poorly, losing 7 wickets for a measly total of 169 runs. Once again England was on top, leading by 118 runs with only tail-enders to support Kohli.

But Kohli needed no support. Off his own bat he took India to an unexpected total of 274, only 13 runs behind England’s. He hit a magnificent 149 with 22 exquisite fours and a six. His late order batting partners Ashwin, Shami, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav appeared like spectators! Kohli had farmed the strike by taking singles at the optimal time to protect them.

Kohli’s 149, although not chanceless, was dominating. No other Indian batsman could reach 30 ”“ the next best was Shikhar Dhawan’s 26.

It was Kohli’s 22nd century in his 67th Test. He is reaching the Mount Everest of his career with masterly batting, dynamic fielding and imaginative leadership.

India’s top order batsmen (Kohli excepted) looked very vulnerable against England’s pace attack. Twenty year-old left-arm medium-fast bowler Sam Curran, playing only his second Test, was the most successful, taking 4 for 74.

With a tiny lead of 13 runs England lost her opening batsman Alastair Cook for a duck to be one down for nine runs at stumps on day-2 of this cliff-hanging Test. Like in the first innings, Ashwin had clean bowled Cook.

Now it is anybody’s game. The next three days will provide the answer.

At the end of the series on 11 September, will India retain her number one rank in Test cricket? So far they are the top Test nation with125 points, followed by South Africa and Australia on 106 points each, New Zealand on 102 and England and Sri Lanka on 97 points each.

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