Pantomime villain Virat Kohli turns hero once again at Edgbaston with one of his greatest Test innings

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Kohli might just have played his most important Test innings.

Love him or hate him, but you can’t but help admire Virat Kohli. The India skipper played the pantomime villain to perfection in the opening day of the Edgbaston Test against England on Wednesday when he ran out his opposite number Joe Root with a brilliant piece of athleticism.

His own take on Root’s ‘mic drop’ celebration from the ODI series decider turned the English public against him in an instant. So much so, that when Kohli came out to bat with India at 54-2 in their first innings on Thursday, he was greeted with the loudest of boos from the partisan Edgbaston crowd.

By the time he walked out of the field after being the last Indian batsman to be dismissed, those loud boos had made way to a standing ovation. The India skipper had after all single-handedly dragged the team to just 13 runs short of England’s first-innings total despite, at one point, a lead of over a 100 runs looking like a safe option for the hosts.

It had not been the most aesthetically pleasing innings from the 29-year-old, but it sure could go down as his most important Test knock depending on how the game pans out in the last three days.

Kohli walked into bat when young Sam Curran was swinging the ball a million miles. He would then watch from the non-striker’s end as Shikhar Dhawan abandoned all semblance of any footwork to gift Curran his third wicket in two overs. India were crumbling, and crumbling fast.

His nemesis from the 2014 series James Anderson was immediately unleashed as soon as Kohli came out to bat. A tricky and testy period before lunch ensued with Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane somehow managing to keep their wicket intact. After lunch, Ben Stokes would wreak havoc similar to the one Curran had unleashed in the first session.

Kohli shone while others around him collapsed.

Kohli shone while others around him collapsed.

Rahane departed soon after while Dinesh Karthik saw his middle stump go on a cartwheel. England were sniffing blood and when Anderson finally had Kohli knicking one towards Dawid Malan at slip, the writing seemed to be on the wall for India. As fate would have it, Malan spilled the chance as India were prevented from being reduced to 100-6.

He would spill one more, albeit a much tougher chance, when Kohli was batting on 51. Meanwhile, Anderson continued his relentless assault outside Kohli’s off-stump. Once bitten, twice shy was the supremely gifted batsman though.

After seeing how close he had come to throwing it away, no longer was he going to take his chances against Anderson. Instead, he wore on a cloak of impregnability and with a steely determination to survive at any cost, he negotiated one of the most hostile spells of bowling he might have ever come across in the most adverse of conditions.

In total, Anderson bowled 43 deliveries to the India skipper. 41 of them turned out to be dots and six runs were scored in the two scoring shots. It had been the duel most had been looking forward to ever the series was announced. And it more than lived up to its expectations.

In the end, both Anderson and Kohli would have come away from that battle with a smile on their faces. Anderson would have realised that the demons of 2014 still very much exist in Kohli’s mind while the India man will believe he has the tools to survive, if not flourish, against all that the English pacer throws at him.

Kohli's battle with Anderson lived up to expectations.

Kohli’s battle with Anderson lived up to expectations.

Ultimately, Kohli did flourish, and how! Batting with the tail for company, he registered his maiden ton on English soil before going on to add 49 quick-fire runs more. India might still have fallen short of England’s first innings total but the psychological advantage they had gained through Kohli’s battling knock cannot be understated.

That pressure showed when Alastair Cook fell early once again in the 16 balls England were made to navigate before the close of play in a carbon copy dismissal from his first innings.

The job had been done for Kohli. Through sheer determination, a single-minded will to succeed and tenacity, he had ensured that the first Test remains within the grasp of India. If they go on to win it from this point on, that innings will definitely go down as the greatest he has every played in the format.

It has shades of his Centurion ton against South Africa this year but that came after India had already lost the first Test. Here, he has prevented that script from repeating itself and made sure that India will not be playing catch up from the very start.

In a single swoop, he surpassed his run total from 10 innings in the 2014 tour. With four more Tests to come after this, Kohli’s work is just getting started. But with his Thursday heroics, the series and the Test has been set up beautifully by cricket’s greatest entertainer currently.

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Former skipper Mohammad Azharuddin urges India to place greater emphasis on slip fielding

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Rahane had dropped Keaton Jennings in the first innings at Edgbaston.

While India’s ground fielding has improved tremendously in recent years, slip fielding has become an increasing cause of worry. The Indians were guilty of dropping a few catches in the slips during their tour of South Africa earlier this year and the same problem has resurfaced in the ongoing Test series in England.

Ajinkya Rahane shelled a straightforward chance off Keaton Jennings in the very first session of the opening Test at Edgbaston before Dinesh Karthik spilled another chance late in the day.

Former India skipper Mohammad Azharuddin, an excellent slip fielder during his playing career, has urged Virat Kohli and his men to place greater emphasis on the aspect.

“Standing for six hours in slip is not easy. You have to take a minimum of 50-60 catches in a day during practice to become a good slip fielder. Slip is a specialised position. Everybody cannot stand in slips, and that is what is happening with the Indian team. We need to identify players who want to stay in the slips. They should be willing to practice hard to take catches in slips. Practice makes you perfect,” Azharuddin told reporters on the sidelines of a team launch in the Karnataka Premier League (KPL).

Despite being ranked No1 in the Test format, India’s slip-fielding has been among the worst among full members in recent times. Since 2013, India’s success-rate in the slip cordon against pacers is 67 per cent which is only better than Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

England’s success-rate in the slip against pacers is not much better either at 73 per cent. The hosts saw plenty of catches go down in the slips on the second day of the Birmingham Test with Kohli being given two lifelines by Dawid Malan on his way to a maiden Test century in England.

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Pakistan pacer Wahab Riaz scores maiden T20 half-century in Derbyshire's loss to Nottinghamshire

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Wahab Riaz slammed a 31-ball 53 in the T20 Blast.

Pakistan’s Wahab Riaz registered his maiden T20 half-century on Thursday but still ended up on the losing side during Derbyshire’s Vitality T20 Blast clash against Nottinghamshire.

The Pakistan pacer once again batted at No3 in the Derbyshire batting order following his knock of 42 in his side’s last clash against Yorkshire. That move paid off with Riaz slogging his way to a 31-ball 53 which included four boundaries and as many sixes.

Riaz’s pinch-hitting innings had put Derbyshire on track in their chase of Nottinghamshire’s 166-5. They looked to be cruising in the chase with Riaz and Wayne Madsen at the crease with the score at 93-2.

However, the introduction of New Zealand’s Ish Sodhi into the bowling attack changed the complexion of the match completely with the leg-spinner’s four-wicket burst derailing Derbyshire’s innings.

Riaz's innings contained four boundaries and four sixes.

Riaz’s innings contained four boundaries and four sixes.

Sodhi had Riaz caught behind before castling Gary Wilson for a duck in the same over. He removed Madsen with his next over to trigger a middle-order collapse which Derbyshire could not recover from.

In the end, Derbyshire fell nine runs short of Nottinghamshire’s total after they could only muster 157-8 in their 20 overs.

Riaz has not featured for Pakistan across any format since his appearance in the Test against Sri Lanka in October, 2017.

Riaz had not been picked for the 25-man probables for Pakistan’s tour of Ireland and England earlier this summer.  His place in the Pakistan side was called into question by head coach Mickey Arthur who had commented that the pacer had not won the side any game for over two years.

The 33-year-old has previously registered two half-centuries for Pakistan in the ODI format.

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