Virat Kohli averages more than fifty in the short forms of the game – ODIs and T20 – where he is ranked among the best in the world. It is his Test record that needs upgrading. An average of below 45 for a batsman of his class is underwhelming and needs correction.
That can only come about by scoring more consistently than he has done in the 47 Tests he has played so far. He has had a string of poor scores in the last six innings and when he walked out to bat on the unpredictable, two-paced Eden wicket, where batting was becoming increasingly dangerous, India, despite a big first innings lead, were in trouble.
The New Zealanders, like in the first Test, made a mess of their first innings and in the face of lively, energetic spells from the two India pacers, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, folded up tamely. Jeetan Patel, a tall chubby young man from the Indian diaspora settled in New Zealand, was the lone exception, playing strokes of exceptional fluency, to lend some substance to his team’s total.
India had a lead of over 100 runs on a track where the cracks on the wicket may have widened a bit, making the ball jump nastily or keep exceeding low, depending on what angle it pitched at.
Shikhar Dhawan survived blows to his knuckles, so did Ajinkye Rahane, as the India top order, including Pujara and Murali Vijay, wilted under the sustained scrutiny of the New Zealand fast bowlers.
Kohli, the man who loves a fight and relishes being in the thick of a scrap, walked in to bat when his team looked extremely vulnerable and needed enough runs to secure the match.
The three pacers, Boult, Henry and Wagner, were breathing fire and Kohli was surrounded by a clutch of leg-side fielders, some close, others on the boundary line. Kohli stood his ground while the short-ball strategy was employed against him with ruthless intent. Kohli had to contend with the dual nature of the wicket, his own aggressive instincts and the context of the match. The lead had just about crossed the 150 mark, India were four wickets down and the loss of his wicket could have spelled disaster.
Kohli, with his calm and control, forced the Kiwis to change strategy, making them shift their line of attack from the leg to off. Just when Kohli had started batting near his best and had withered one storm, the vagaries of the wicket did him in.
An incoming ball from Boult never rose off the wicket after pitching. Kohli, rapped on the pads, literally squatted on the ground, head down, eyes probably grilling the wicket, as the umpire raised his finger. A few seconds later, a wry smile adorning his face, he walked back to the pavilion. Though he had made only 45 runs under very trying circumstances, it was an innings which provided India momentum and sapped the energy of the pacers in the hot and humid conditions that helped the lower order to build on the lead.
Rohit Sharma, whose impetuosity has led to his fall often, and Wriddhiman Saha would readily admit that without Kohli’s contribution, they could not have scored the runs they finally did.
The immensely talented Rohit lets indiscretion get the better of him, which has not helped his cause. On Sunday, he kept himself in check, though signs of impatience did surface that could have led to an early end to his innings. But he did not let those lapses affect his concentration and played some imperious strokes as India stretched their lead to over 300, a score which only a miracle can help New Zealand overhaul on a track like this.