There are no easy centuries in international cricket. The pitch might be benign or the bowlers may lack the sting but a batsman still has to start from scratch and get to 100.
Virat Kohli, on an enviable run in one-dayers and T20, showed he hasn’t lost touch in the longest format, despite playing his last Test more than seven months back. At a ground named after his hero, Sir Vivian Richards, and with the legend himself at audience, Kohli scored an unbeaten 12th century to put India in a commanding position of 302/4 after the first day’s play of the first Test. Shikhar Dhawan too deserved a century purely for his grit but unlike Kohli, he lost patience when it mattered the most.
This Antigua pitch isn’t a typical flat wicket. There is inconsistent carry and the occasional bounce that kept Dhawan in considerable discomfort in the early parts of the first session. But it also dared both teams to come up with their best bowling attack to ensure a balanced fight. Kohli walked his talk by picking his five best bowlers but West Indies opted for a safer option and accommodated an extra batsman and part-time spinner in Roston Chase. Effectively, West Indies were playing with only two frontline bowlers in Shannon Gabriel and Devendra Bishoo. Little wonder that all four Indian wickets were shared between the two. Ironically, they were also the two most expensive bowlers for West Indies.
With limited ability and non-threatening pace, captain Jason Holder and Carlos Brathwaite did what they could have done best --- bowl to a plan. There were plenty of pitched up deliveries, some that held the fourth or fifth stump line and then there were the straighter ones aimed at the body. Still Bishoo managed to end the day as the most successful bowler with three wickets, two coming off deliveries that even he might not rank among his best. Shannon Gabriel’s intent was paid handsomely when Murali Vijay was caught unstuck against a snorter that he never saw coming.
Cheteshwar Pujara’s dismissal --- failing to smash a long-hop past point --- again showed for the umpteenth time why overs just before and lunch or tea are so dreaded. Kohli though walked in determined not to undo Pujara’s hard work in the first session that yielded 72 runs. By then, Dhawan too had gotten into a rhythm and together the pair added 107 runs in 27.1 overs. Kohli’s repair job started with boundary off Bishoo, a typical whipped drive that Marlon Samuels spilled at cover but his was a controlled innings with the intent of inflicting maximum damage taking minimum risk.
Every time West Indies planned on playing the waiting game with Kohli, the India captain didn’t fail to be one up on them. Showing amazing restraint, Kohli was happily pushing and tucking the ball for singles and twos till Dhawan finally extracted some revenge from Gabriel by cutting him over third man for six.
With Kohli’s arrival though, more authoritative cover drives came slowly into play. It started popping questions in the mind of Holder who frankly never had the bowling resources to attack Kohli. Instead the India captain slowly but surely took control before switching to his cover drives to make West Indies increasingly jittery and race to a half-century off just 75 balls. That was perfect time for Dhawan to give his approach a rethought and maybe buckle down and let Kohli take over. An instinctive batsman though, Dhawan fell to a sweep that could have easily been avoided.
Kohli again scored bulk of the runs in a 57-run partnership with Ajinkya Rahane. Halfway through this partnership, Kohli looked unstoppable. His century was just a matter of time and even though it came right after Rahane threw away his wicket, Kohli didn’t let go of the momentum. With R Ashwin coming ahead of Wriddhiman Saha, Kohli ensured India didn’t lose any more wicket even though it took a toll on their scoring against a visibly tired bowling attack. In the two sessions Kohli batted, India scored 107 and 123 runs respectively. That was enough to give India the headstart they need to probably bat just once in this Test match.