Is Virat Kohli the Don Bradman of ODI cricket? England must think so, as the newly-crowned Indian ODI team skipper made light of an imposing target of 351 by notching up his 27th ODI hundred, in only his 169th innings, a feat unparalleled in the history of the game.
England must also wonder what IS a safe total in this format of the game. They had made totals of over 400 in Tests, only to be whipped time and again by the Indian batting line-up. Now a seemingly humongous ODI total of 350 for 7 was brushed aside as a couple of batsmen – one batting out of his skin and the other as though it was a walk in the park – stole the thunder in front of a packed Pune house.
But first, a mention must be made about the incredible positive mindset of Kohli and his extraordinary ability to coax heroic contributions from the most unexpected of quarters.
In Tests, he was able to motivate Ravichandran Ashwin, Jayant Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja to rise to the challenge and come up with outstanding batting performances that virtually knocked the stuffing out of the Englishmen.
In Pune, he was at hand to guide and prod the pint-sized Kedar Jadhav through a tough initial phase and the latter responded with a magnificent century.
The task at hand was monstrous, almost impossible. India had lost the cream of their batting strength – Shikar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni – all players who could batter the bowling and keep abreast with the required run rate. The score at that stage was a measly 63 for the loss of four wickets and the momentum most certainly was with England.
Lesser mortals would have reckoned this to be a lost cause and either settled for serious batting practice ahead of the next ODI or simply thrown in the towel. But not Kohli, India’s captain courageous.
His immense confidence and faith in his ability convinced him that the seemingly impregnable total of 350 was within grasp. Importantly, he could instill similar confidence in a relatively inexperienced Jadhav. Together they forged the sort of force that England will not forget for a long time to come. Additionally, they have dealt a severe blow to the visitors’ morale and self-esteem and it would be interesting to see how England recovers from it.
Kohli’s prodigious output with the bat, his 27th century in only his 169th innings, must also be put in perspective. Maestro Sachin Tendulkar took 254 innings to reach the 27-ton marker while other ODI greats, Ricky Ponting and Sanath Jayasuriya, took 308 and 404 innings respectively.
Interestingly, Kohli, who had featured in two other successful run chases in excess of 350, scored his 122 runs from 105 deliveries (8×4, 5×6) as against the 100 not out from 52 deliveries in Jaipur and 115 not out from 66 deliveries in Nagpur, both against Australia. On this occasion, while all the English efforts were largely concentrated in either dismissing him or containing him, Jadhav, slipped into the role of pace setter with a 76-ball innings of 120 (12×4, 4×6). Their fifth wicket partnership of 200 off 146 balls came at a rollicking run rate of 8.16.
About the only shortcoming on Jadhav’s part was his inability to keep pace in running between the wickets with a super-fit Kohli. He tried his best, yet had to wisely turn down Kohli’s calls for more enthusiastic scampering between the wickets. And even that took a toll on him as he suffered from leg cramps when well into his 90s.
But on all other occasions Jadhav was equal to the challenge. He pulled with power and also lofted the ball into the straight field often to outfox the bowlers. A couple of late cuts too were exquisitely timed to beat the infield. At the other end, Kohli batted like only he could. One backfoot punch for six over long on was mind-boggling. The pair simply ran England ragged.
Earlier, Jason Roy, Joe Root and Ben Stokes kept the Union Jack flying high with refreshing stroke play. Root (78 from 95 balls) might have been more circumspect. But he was fitting into the role of holding one end up as Roy and Stokes went hell for leather. England’s batsmen really went berserk in the final eight overs when they clobbered 105 runs and enabled the team to get to a very healthy 350 for 7 in 50 overs.
Off spinner Ashwin once again failed to impress in this format but Jadeja made up for it. While on this, the role of spinners on good batting pitches with only four fielders permitted outside the circle has been reduced to being ornamental. But that’s a subject for another day.