Kohli’s shot at immortality

By, London
Jun 10, 2023 10:55 PM IST

With India needing another 280 runs and seven wickets in hand, Kohli has a chance to produce a fourth-innings epic. Will he and India be up for it?

A chase in the fourth innings immediately brings up memories. For some and perhaps the Australians of this generation too, it means Rishabh Pant’s incredible 89 at Brisbane in the 2020/21 tour. But go back a few decades and there are few who wouldn’t have reminisced about Sunil Gavaskar’s 221 at The Oval in 1979.

Virat Kohli(Reuters)
Virat Kohli(Reuters)

India have neither Gavaskar nor Pant in their playing XI for the World Test Championship against Australia at The Oval. But they do have a certain Virat Kohli in the mix and this is his shot at immortality.

At close of play on Day 4 of the World Test Championship final, India were 164/3, chasing 444 to win. Kohli, 44, and Ajinkya Rahane, 20, were at the crease. The equation going into the final day is 280 runs needed with seven wickets in hand.

For much of the Indian Premier League, Kohli has been telling anyone who would listen that he is back in top form. The numbers added up to 639 runs in 14 games. If nothing else, he had his timing down and Test cricket is so much about that.

But over the course of a long and storied Test career, Kohli has played many great knocks but do any of them stand out like Gavaskar’s 221 or Pant’s 89; do any of them blow you away as the two aforementioned knocks do? Indeed, do we have the definitive Kohli knock or are we still looking?

His 141 against Adelaide during the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in 2014-15 was an introduction. Remember the pep talk to the team in the absence of an injured MS Dhoni? "Whatever target they give us tomorrow, we're going for it. If there's any hesitation or anyone wants to oppose it, you tell me right now, or we go to our rooms knowing we're going to meet the target,” Kohli had said.

The team did not cross the line but this was peak Kohli mentality.

The Pataudi Trophy in 2018 saw him produce another classic — 149 in Edgbaston. In South Africa, he scored 153 in Centurion. Given that he has scored 28 centuries in Test cricket, there are obviously many other superb knocks but nothing yet that has earned India a big win on the world stage.

But this is his chance. Now, no one is saying it will be easy but the great ones are always driven by the challenge and that is exactly the space Kohli falls into.

For much of Day 4, the match had gone exactly to plan for Australia. They batted 40.3 overs on the day, played out some time, Alex Carey made his way to 66*, Cameron Green hit a few as did Mitchell Starc. They kept India at bay long enough — tired them out on a sunny, warm day and then declared.

The target in front of India is 444. No side has even come close to chasing a total of this magnitude. The highest successful run chase on this ground is 263 runs, which came back in 1902 by England against Australia. The second-highest is 255 (West Indies in 1963) and the third-highest is 242 (Australia in 1972). India did get to 429/8, chasing 438 for victory in 1979 but that match had ended in a draw.

There wasn’t a lot of uneven bounce when India came out to bat either and that would have put the batters slightly at ease. Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill got things going with the kind of intent that suggested they wanted to go for a win.

But then when Gill was caught by Green at gully with the total on 41, the brakes were applied a bit. Sharma was trapped lbw by Nathan Lyon while playing an ill-advised sweep after making 43 and Cheteshwar Pujara was dismissed playing the upper cut. The scoring was brisk but India had lost three wickets for 93 in just 20.4 overs. And in a big chase, that wasn't ideal.

That brought together the old firm of Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane (who had been nursing a finger injury which prevented him from taking the field for Australia’s second innings). Their partnership always seems to have a certain positive rhythm to it, both are stroke players and run well between the wickets. That easy, familiar feeling was evident right away. Nothing the Aussies did seemed to trouble them in any way.

During the course of the unbroken stand of 71, Kohli and Rahane became the first Indian pair to score over 3000 runs for the fourth wicket in Tests (next best: 2695 — Sachin Tendulkar & Sourav Ganguly). India will hope they can add plenty more to that tally on Sunday.

As the day came to an end, the crowd was chanting Kohli’s name. As things stand, Day 5 awaits and immortality beckons. Will Kohli and India be up for it?

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