Virat Kohli doesn’t tinker his batting style irrespective of the format. He makes the necessary technical adjustments as per the game’s demand and his approach is different in the long form as compared to limited-overs cricket. But his range allows him to play his natural game across formats.
India’s first-ever day-night Test presented the skipper with a different challenge; sticking to his style when a different ball was in use. By Kohli’s own admission, the pink ball is a lot different from the conventional red one, as it could confuse the batsmen with regard to judging the off-stump. The pink ball also travels at greater speed, but Kohli showed his natural style could master different ball conditions.
On Saturday, in front of 50,000 fans, Kohli scored his 27th Test century – his 70th international hundred. His genius blurred the difference between the pink ball and its red counterpart. His approach against the pink one was pretty similar to the way he countered the red cherry in England – standing a couple of feet outside the popping crease to cover the swing.
During his 136 runs, scored off 194 balls over 288 minutes, Kohli played over 90 per cent of his shots in front of the wicket. He cut down the risk factor and flicked only when the ball was in range – over-pitched on leg and middle or leg stump. The Bangladesh bowling didn’t have a Jimmy Anderson in its ranks. Far from it. The medium pace of Al-Amin Hossain, Abu Jayed and Ebadat Hossain was Bangladesh’s weak currency. But the India captain respected the conditions, in the process setting the template in terms of neutralising the pink-ball threat.
On the face of it, it is comparatively easier to stand outside the popping crease against 130kph medium pacers. It takes immense courage and superlative skill to do that against tearaway quicks. Then again, Kohli repeatedly did that during the 2014-15 series in Australia against Mitchell Johnson’s thunderbolts. He scored four centuries in that four-Test series, on fast Australian pitches.
The Indian captain also paced his innings perfectly, with regards to picking the right time to up the ante. As Cheteshwar Pujara said after the day’s play, in day-night Test cricket, the first session in the afternoon and the final one, when there’s dew, are the two relatively easier periods for batting. Resuming on his overnight score of 59, Kohli raced to 130 in the first two hours of the second day’s play. As it turned out, batting became difficult post-lunch, when India lost five wickets for 58 runs in 13.4 overs. Kohli, too, got out during that period, but his dismissal was down to an exceptional catch from Taijul Islam at deep fine leg.
Kohli picked an Ebadat delivery on leg stump and the ball flew off his bat. Taijul initially misjudged the flight of the ball but made a great recovery, flinging himself backwards and plucking the catch out of thin air.
Before that though, Kohli gave a masterclass in pink-ball batting in an Abu Jayed over. The first ball had induced a thick edge and went past gully to the square third-man boundary. The batsman had to wrest the initiative. He brought out a pristine straight drive next ball, playing on the up. Jayed then bowled on leg and middle, hoping for another thick edge, as Kohli went for a flick. This time, the ball was met on the half-volley, wrists came into play and a boundary was scored past mid-wicket. Then, probably just to show the bowler who was boss, Kohli walked across to a length ball outside off-stump and drove it to the cover boundary. Sweeper cover barely moved.
The fourth-wicket partnership between Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane yielded 99 runs. Rahane scored 51 of them and seemed set for a big score. But he got out to a half-tracker from left-arm spinner Taijul. The ball spun away alright and also jumped a little. But a player of Rahane’s class was expected to get on top of the bounce. The top edge went to Ebadat at backward point instead.
After India declared on 347/9 deep into the second session, Ishant Sharma came out firing on all cylinders. At 9/3, the match was heading for a two-day finish. It soon became 13/4, Bangladesh captain Mominul Haque bagging a pair. But Mahmudullah added 69 runs with Mushfiqur Rahim before clutching his hamstring and retiring hurt. Rahim showed character, took a blow on the visor but remained unbeaten on 59 at stumps on Day Two. Bangladesh finished the day on 152/6 in their second innings, trailing India by 89 runs. And early finish on Day Three looks imminent.