Trent Bridge: The world’s two top Test batsmen could both give lectures on patience, from dramatically different viewpoints. While Steve Smith waits for his 12-month suspension to end in March, Virat Kohli shows England how to play the long game.
Kohli’s willingness to play himself in, leave the ball when necessary and bend to our conditions is really a lesson to batsmen everywhere, not only at Trent Bridge. After Chris Woakes had trapped him lbw for 103, Kohli seemed to say as much when waving his bat round the full 360-degrees of the ground. The gesture said: Were you all watching? That was Test match batting. India’s captain bears the mark of greatness.
At times, this series might have been rebranded as England versus Virat Kohli.
The locomotion of the side though is Kohli’s runs, Kohli’s cunning, Kohli’s charisma. Smith, in purdah, can match him in the sticking-around stakes, but Australia’s ball-tampering scandal has removed Kohli’s main rival. And it could take a year or two for Smith to regain his lustre, assuming he ever does.
A few notches down is England’s challenger, Joe Root, who has been outshone in successive series by Smith (in the 2017-18 Ashes), Kane Williamson (New Zealand) and now Kohli. In this one, Kohli has made 200 runs twice in three matches: at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge. Root has posted 142 runs with a highest score of 80. Kohli has amassed 440, at an average of 73.37, with two centuries.
Australia was even worse for Root. There, Smith heaped up 687 runs, averaging 137.40. Given the chaos on that tour, Root did well to reach 378, at 47.25, but his top score was 83 (Smith’s was 239). You could hardly find a case of the robes of office hanging more heavily on an England captain, but Root has a deeper complication in his own game: a patience deficit that is preventing him converting fifties into hundreds and causing him to attack the ball too hard.
Smith and Kohli are bulwarks against the dumbing down of Test batting. Both are prepared to dispense with entertainment for strategic gain. Each is secure enough in his own talent to put accumulation before self-aggrandisement. Where the scoreboard calls for it, Smith and Kohli will let balls go by rather than chase them white-ball style.
In Test batting, the experts all say, you have to survive before you can thrive: master the pitch and the bowling. The great batter slows the clock down, wrests control from the bowlers by playing his or her game, not theirs. Kohli has tried to do this throughout this series, unlike some of his teammates. Finally, at Trent Bridge, India followed his example and dusted off the book of calculation.
The world’s best batsman has set the bar in Birmingham, London and Nottingham. Root has not been able to match that level. Even James Anderson is losing his personal duel with India’s global star, over 212 deliveries, though two “drops” have hardly helped. On 93 here, he edged an Anderson delivery straight through Keaton Jennings at third slip.
Further afield, Kohli slipped below Smith in the International Cricket Council rankings after Lord’s but will reclaim top spot when Trent Bridge shuts its doors. His 103 here was a front-running job without the kind of pressure tighter matches bring.
This was Kohli’s 23rd Test hundred in 69 matches. He has converted nine of his past 13 fifties into centuries. Many pundits think he is better than Sachin Tendulkar. He also likes confrontation, which Root has yet to master, perhaps because he feels a duty to play the diplomat, given the turmoil of the last 12 months.
Comparisons aside, Kohli has graced this series. Root still has time to come back at him, if he has the patience.
— The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2018