West Indies v India, 1st Test, Antigua, 1st day July 22, 2016

Kohli insures five-bowler strategy with determined ton

While his team-mates were prone to losing concentration on the cusp of breaks in play, Virat Kohli steeled himself to stay until stumps and brought up another Test ton
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Play 01:03
Manjrekar: 'Kohli reminds me of Tendulkar'

Four wickets down, 302 on the board. An excellent first day for a batting side, by almost any measure. Almost. India's number six was R Ashwin, a man who has played 32 Test matches, a man with undoubted batting talent, but also a man who had never batted anywhere in the top six before, and had batted at seven only twice. On Thursday, Ashwin walked in at 236 for 4, a far less secure situation than 302 for 4.

At the other end was Virat Kohli, batting on 99.

Kohli had just watched Ajinkya Rahane fall against the run of play to a long hop. Not too long before that, in the final over before tea, he had watched Shikhar Dhawan, who had curbed his instincts for four hours to score 84, fall to a high-risk shot: a sweep played to a ball pitched on middle stump, by a legspinner. Deliveries from legspinners pitching on middle stump often straighten to hit middle stump, or, as in Dhawan's case, the front pad. And just after lunch, Kohli had walked into the middle after Cheteshwar Pujara had got himself out to another long hop.

Three wickets carelessly given away, three wickets given away against the run of play, two of them close to breaks in play.

On the eve of the match, Kohli had spoken about the need to guard against that sort of thing.

"We have discussed this quite a lot, since the [2014-15] tour of Australia. We have felt the breaks - lunch break, tea break, drinks break - we tend to lose a lot of wickets around this time. It's a matter of experience. We were losing our concentration, and not realising how important those moments are in a Test match."

He had also spoken about India identifying the need to attack the opposition in the first Test of a series, and to play their best possible bowling combination in order to do so. He had backed his words in the most comprehensive way possible. Kohli's India had played five bowlers before, but one of them was usually an allrounder such as Stuart Binny or Ravindra Jadeja. Now neither was in the side, and the five bowlers were five bowlers.

This was why Ashwin was batting at No. 6. And he came in as early as he did because of three soft dismissals, two of them close to breaks, two of them watched from 22 yards away by the very person who had spoken of the need to avoid such lapses.

They had committed those lapses against a team that had seemed set for two days on the field, a team with one genuine fast bowler, one genuine spinner, and two 128 kph workhorses who were in the side in large part for their batting ability. It was a bowling attack of a team that seemed bent on drawing the Test before a ball had been bowled. Given the resources available to them - the one other fast bowler in their squad, Miguel Cummins, was yet to make his Test debut - it may even have been a prudent selection.

Shannon Gabriel, the one genuine fast bowler in the West Indies XI, had begun the day by removing one of India's openers in a nasty spell of short-pitched bowling. But that spell had only lasted four overs, and his next spell, close to lunch, only three. Every time he went out of the attack, the threat to India's batsmen dwindled visibly.

Virat Kohli held firm to finish 143 not out at the close of day one in Antigua © Associated Press

And so, when the third-wicket partnership between Dhawan and Kohli passed the 100 mark, West Indies almost seemed resigned to conceding 500. And yet, somehow, India slipped to 236 for 4.

For once, it was hard to read displeasure in Kohli's body language. He probably felt it. But all he could do was carry on batting. Just as he had done till then.

When Kohli came to the crease, India were 74 for 2 in 27.4 overs. They were going at less than three runs an over. Carlos Brathwaite, bowling wide of off stump and testing India's patience, had figures of 6-2-6-0, because Dhawan and Pujara had been as patient as the tactic demanded, with an early wicket down and the ball still new.

The first time Brathwaite bowled that line to Kohli, he took a long stride out, reached for the ball, and drove him into the covers for three. He was batting on 26, but he had done the same thing against Jason Holder, West Indies' other run-drying workhorse, when he had been batting on 0.

This need to feel bat on ball has been Kohli's weakness in conditions where the ball moves around, but here, with the sun out, the ball shorn of its shine, and against friendly medium-paced bowling, he probably reckoned it was a risk worth taking.

It proved to be so, and the reward was a strike rate that rattled along in the 70s. Twice - once off Gabriel when on 19, and then off Brathwaite when on 37 - he reached out and sliced the ball dangerously wide of gully. But those were the only false steps in an innings where he achieved a 94% control rate.

It was an approach that probably only Kohli among India's batsmen could have taken, for he has consistently shown across formats an ability to make risky shots look mundane during his ongoing, and seemingly endless, run of form. Take this shot he played against Devendra Bishoo when on 83. A well-flighted delivery, landing on a length that forced Kohli into a big front-foot stretch. It pitched on off stump, and Kohli flicked it between midwicket and mid-on. It wasn't the rubbery bottom-handed Kohli whip we are accustomed to seeing. This was a daintier creation, a last-second improvisation born of that long, smooth stride that brought his head on top of the ball, and the recognition - possibly off the pitch rather than out of the hand - that this was a googly.

Strokes of this kind peppered Kohli's innings. The loose balls disappeared as you might expect, and reasonably good ones went into gaps as well, manipulated by neat footwork and a pair of hands and wrists that is perhaps the best in the cricketing world today. Twenty-eight of his 143 runs came in twos and threes.

On a pitch that seemed to flatten out as the day went on, against a bowling attack with only one real threat, there were moments when batting almost seemed too easy for Kohli. But, as his team-mates showed, snares lay waiting for that one mistake, that one moment of carelessness. This, after all, was still Test cricket.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ashok16 on July 24, 2016, 22:09 GMT

    Despite the obvious risk of a batting collapse, a five bowler strategy. It gives India more options to bowl the other teams out and there is less danger of bowling injuries. Even the Indian teams with the great batsmen underachieved for the most part and there is no point trying the same thing again and again for the same mediocre results. Good to see Kohli recognize this. If five batsmen, wicketkeeper and atleast one bowling all rounder are not enough to keep the batting ticking, maybe they should be replaced one by one. It is time to be bold and aim higher and not be the same old boring Indian test team.

  • testcricketforever on July 23, 2016, 10:41 GMT

    I am still not convinced by 5 bowler theory. Even with a batting line up of Viru-Gambhir/Jafer, Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman, Dhoni, India never went with 5 batsmen. Against better opposition, with good bowling attacks, this 5-1-5 combination will hurt a lot. Ashwin is still not a top-6 like batsman. He is a good no. 8 though. Indian bowlers need to pull up. I think this 5 bowler strategy is to protect Ashwin, bcz, unlike Kumble and Bhajji, Ashwin can't bowl quality for two days consecutive. Kumble and Bhajji could bowl marathons.

  • nandanLeo on July 23, 2016, 7:53 GMT

    Such a relief, as an Indian cricket fan. It was frustrating to MSD playing same 4 bowlers again and again. I am sure Indian Test team will do well under Kohli. His 200 is just a reflection of things to come.

  • ChuckyDoll on July 22, 2016, 17:01 GMT

    Got to give it to Kohli! Part 1 (of 2) of his 5-bowler strategy is a success. Well, if Saha+Ashwin+X-Factor can score 150+, why not?

  • basusri133b on July 22, 2016, 15:54 GMT

    Kohl is absolutely correct in picking 5 bowlers in the team. This strategy will pay us positive dividends. This is a refreshing change from the Dhoni era. Kohli's aggressive & positive style of Captaincy is another welcome change. And, Anil Kumble's appointment as coach is an excellent move.

    It would be great if we could find a couple of young genuine pace bowlers / all rounders the mold of the great Kapil Dev !

  •   Prabhu Thomas on July 22, 2016, 11:51 GMT

    i will prefer jedeja overv mishra.comparte his stats with mishra,he performed exceptionally well against southafrica.i agreed its aflat wicket but some one who pick upa fivefer in last test shoul given opportunity.

  • SupportTestCricket on July 22, 2016, 9:01 GMT

    Kohli is going to be the most successful Indian captain ever, form and lack of injuries permitting! His heart's in the right place, he is positive always, backs his decisions and a good student of the game with an awareness of the situation of where the game is headed. He will have his form hiccups and will face tougher apposition in his career but I am sure he will overcome all obstacles as he is well prepared always and backs his ideas. The five genuine bowlers for tests is the right way to go. It's positive intent and tells the opposition, we are coming after you with everything we got. It also tells his team mates, especially his batsmen that we are only five with a bit of help from the last six so we have to put a price on our wickets. All in all a good planner and positive character and am sure with help from the teammates and back up staff we will be doing well in all three formats (when he takes over) from Dhoni in the ODI's and T20's. Look forward to his reign.

  • ShakeelSardar on July 22, 2016, 8:55 GMT

    Nicely written article. Enjoyed it.

  • Gopez on July 22, 2016, 8:44 GMT

    Amit mishra over JAdeja is a good decision, when wickets do not turn, you need a wrist spinner not a finger spinner.

  • sur0023anindya on July 22, 2016, 7:04 GMT

    Everybody is lauding the heroics of Virat Kohli and that India is placed well at the end of 1st day's play. But we are not looking at the performances of pujara, rahane. They are getting starts but are unable to convert into big scores. It will be a great responsibillity on the shoulder of kumble to help our batsmen to score big in test matches, like their predecessors(sachin, shewag, laxman, dravid)and which are not coming for some years now.

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