Virat Kohli was booed by the Edgbaston crowd when he walked out to bat during an England surge, but by the time he was done - 149 out of 220 scored while he was at the wicket; the next-best score was 26 - the crowd stood up as one to applaud one of the great ugly-but-beautiful innings. Not just the crowd, the England team were perfect hosts for the second day in a row: after the run-out and soft dismissals when they batted, they dropped three catches - two of those Kohli's - and then looked clueless when the India captain turned it on with the tail. Just like on day one, Kohli was waiting to accept the gifts, this time turning what at one stage looked like a 150-run deficit into just 13.
A standout feature of Kohli's innings was his manipulation of the strike towards the end of the innings. He faced 3.1 times the deliveries faced by Nos 9, 10 and 11, comfortably the best effort by anyone who has batted 100 balls with the tail since 2001. In the process, he scored 92 of the 105 runs added by the last three wickets. And all of this was after weathering a spell from his great nemesis James Anderson; there were only two scoring shots - both off edges - in 43 balls and a dropped catch when the batsman was only 21.
Poor fielding aside, it was a glorious day of Test cricket on which Kohli should at least be nice and write an apology to Sam Curran for stealing his thunder. India had got off to an excellent start, putting on their first fifty-run opening stand in England in 18 innings, when the 20-year-old Curran struck with beautiful left-arm swing. M Vijay was caught plumb in front, but when he was not given, the youngster had the gumption to insist on a review. KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan then put on a manual on how not to play swing bowling: 50 for 0 became 59 for 3, and every ball seemed to be doing something.
The relief for India was lunch, but even before that Kohli survived by the skin of his teeth with a thick edge not carrying to gully and also hurting Jos Buttler's finger. Things went crazy when play resumed. Anderson was after Kohli. Ben Stokes after everyone else. There was intense scrutiny on the Indian batsmen's technique and resolve. Ajinkya Rahane and Dinesh Karthik failed. India were 100 for 5; could have been 100 for 7. But in successive balls, Dawid Malan at second slip and Alastair Cook at first slip dropped Kohli and Hardik Pandya. England are better than only India and Bangladesh when it comes to slip catching currently and here, with their bowlers creating more chances than India's, their cordon was being badly exposed.
Those reprieves resulted in a 48-run stand, which Curran ended with a searing yorker moments before tea. Soon after that, Malan dropped Kohli again, this time on 51. Still, Anderson got rid of Ashwin with India only 169 for 7 and trailing by 118.
The spotlight shifted to Kohli again. Until now he had played a responsible Test innings, swallowing his ego to come out alive from his battle with Anderson. Now that he was batting with the tail, he had nothing to lose. Now he was free to display his repertoire of shots. No sooner than Kohli opened up a little did England beat the retreat. A catcher came out to midwicket. A sweeper slowly went out. All of a sudden, England were not actively looking for Kohli's wicket. If it comes, great; if it doesn't, let's take the tail out.
But that plan rarely works against Kohli. He has, time and again, made a mockery of restrictive fields in one-day cricket. His mental strength, physical fitness and temperament are beyond doubt and he uses all of them to put the entire opposition under pressure. He stole singles from under the fielders' noses, Root fumbling three times when the ball came his way as a clear winner emerged in the contest between the two captains. Kohli was outdoing Root with the bat, in the field, and with ideas when on the field. He also made boundary-riders look obsolete and had no trouble keeping the ball down when England went short at him, which was always likely on a slow pitch.
England had to finally go to Adil Rashid with Kohli on 96. Kohli took a single third ball, and Rashid got Ishant with the next. The No. 10 was lbw to a wrong 'un but he could have overturned that decision had he gone for a review. Nevertheless, he played with commitment that some of his batting mates could learn from. He defended resolutely and even used DRS to save himself twice.
Now Kohli was on 97, India 70 behind, and there was only No. 11 for company. Umesh Yadav played out the last two balls, and Kohli took his game a notch higher. A square cut brought up the hundred. He jumped for joy, kissed his wedding band, saluted the dressing room and possibly also pleaded his team-mates to help him out. The odd ball still kept beating him - these instances increased as he began to play more shots - but England just weren't bowling to get him out.
Finally Rashid got him on the square cut with India just 13 behind. To rub it in for England, in the 3.4 overs possible before stumps, R Ashwin, India's best new-ball bowler in the absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, produced an action replay of the jaffa to dismiss Cook in the first innings: drifting in, pitching on middle and off, and then turning past the slightly closed face of the bat to knock the top of off stump. As the players walked back, Kohli allowed himself another fist pump. Nobody was booing him now.