India skipper Virat Kohli has zoomed to a career-best fourth in the ICC rankings for Test batsmen, setting up a battle royale with England’s second-ranked Joe Root in the third Test starting in Mohali on Saturday.
Kohli breached the 800-mark for the first time, moving to within 22 rating points of Root. Australia skipper Steven Smith is the No 1 and his Kiwi counterpart Kane Williamson is third in the latest list released on Tuesday.
Kohli was Man-of-the-Match in the 246-run victory on Monday, which gave India the lead in the five-match series. His 167 and 81 were crucial, first helping to consolidate and ensuring India drove home the advantage of having won the toss.
The India skipper was well set in the drawn Rajkot Test, unlucky to be hit wicket for 40 when in full flow in the first innings but he held firm for over two hours to score 49 not out in the second innings to force a draw.
But the 25-year-old Root is on a roll himself. He scored a fluent 124 in the first innings in Rajkot and was solid in Vizag as well, scoring 53 and 25. However, Kohli has shown who is the master in the Indian conditions, aggregating 337 in four innings against Root’s 206. Staying ahead of Root will help Virat reel him in before the series is done.
If Virat’s career average has not crossed 50 --- regarded as a benchmark for great batsmen --- it is mainly due to his horror series in England two years ago, when he barely averaged 14.
But that is in the past. The 28-year-old missed out on a big one in Rajkot, but his contributions were vital in India sealing the draw.
Virat’s batting in Vizag pushed him up 10 spots. Mohali, where the ball should come on to the bat, will also allow fluent batting and gives the India skipper the chance to take his average past the 50 mark. He breached the 800 rating mark in rankings for the first time after logging 97 points in the second Test.
In ODIs, Virat, a former No 1, is ranked second, behind AB de Villiers.
The fast improving numbers also reflect Virat’s evolution as a batsman. On the 2014 New Zealand tour, he explained how one can be aggressive even while defending and that intent is the key.
After the England low in 2014, he exploded in the Adelaide Test of December that year, scoring centuries in either innings to almost pull off a sensational win before losing. He has been on a high since then.
In this series, there is a certain calmness in his batting. In Rajkot, he said India have learnt to draw Tests too. “Maybe in Test cricket in the future, we will have this situation again.
“Maybe we will have to apply ourselves again and show character, so have the intent to get runs in between but play percentage cricket, figure out areas where you want to take ones or hit boundaries, but at the same time, be sure of your defence as well.”
In Vizag, he expanded on this approach. “I don’t feel the need to hit ball in the air. I don’t need to try fancy things. To see what’s happening, how the bowlers are bowling...that’s the plan. Spending time in Tests is something I intend to do.”