Kohli’s drought-breaking ton steers India to mammoth total on Ahmedabad road
Virat Kohli has scored plenty more sublime and challenging centuries across his Test career, but few if any can have been more satisfying.
The Indian veteran’s century in Ahmedabad, ending a 1205-year wait for his 28th Test ton dating back to November 2019, was the centrepiece as the hosts recorded a mammoth 571, and gives them an outside chance of a 3-1 series win over Australia with one day left for the series.
That fate, however, will rest with the pitch, which has shown no signs of deteriorating throughout the Test and continues to punish bowlers as mercilessly as the first three surfaces of the series did to the batters.
With just 20 wickets falling across the first four days, India’s 88-run first innings lead will count for nought unless the pitch begins to break up on the fifth day, though with Usman Khawaja sustaining a leg injury and unable to open the batting in the final six overs of the day – a task then given to nightwatchman Matt Kuhnemann – Australia will be vulnerable should the Indian spinners conjure any hitherto unseen demons from the deck.
Kuhnemann would have to survive a pair of near misses before the day was out, an outside edge off Ravichandran Ashwin just eluding the gloves of KS Bharat and a short ball from Mohammed Shami very nearly steered to short leg in the final over of the day.
Managing just six wickets for the day, and only bowling India out thanks to Shreyas Iyer’s unavailability after going for scans on a lower back issue, it was another afternoon of toil for the Australian attack in searing heat.
Nathan Lyon sent down 65 overs, the most he has ever bowled in a Test innings, and received some late reward for effort with the wickets of Bharat (44) and a slogging Ashwin (7).
Todd Murphy (3/113 off 45.5 overs) also bowled a marathon stint, while Kuhnemann (1/94 off 25) and Mitchell Starc (1/97 off 22) were forced to toil particularly hard. But with any pace off the deck continually treated with disdain by the hosts, Steve Smith found himself turning to spin on most occasions to limit the damage.
But it was a day on which batters needed to practically give their wicket away to fall, as Ravindra Jadeja did when, after crawling to 28 off 84 balls, attempted to loft Murphy down the ground but only succeeded in chipping him straight to Khawaja at mid-on.
Any hopes the wicket would expose India’s middle order quickly evaporated as Bharat joined Kohli at the crease. The pair took India past lunch, then into the record books, the team becoming the first ever to start a Test innings with five consecutive 50-run partnerships.
Watchful at first but later explosive, taking 78 balls to reach 26 before smacking the expensive Green for consecutive sixes, the first over mid-wicket and the second to fine leg. Together with a fierce cut for four, the over would cost 21.
Bharat, though, was unable to convert the onslaught into a maiden Test half-century, an inside edge off Lyon pouched by Peter Handscomb at short leg.
With Axar Patel for company now, Kohli remained sedate; his century, compiled off 241 balls, reached with a trademark flick off his pads in front of square. The celebration was more relief than jubilation, as the biggest monkey in world cricket was at last removed from the veteran’s back.
While Kohli resisted the temptation to raise his run rate as India closed in on Australia’s first innings 480, Patel had no such reservations.
Showing once again the broad array of strokes that have brought him remarkable success with the bat (if not with the ball) thus far this series, the all-rounder took on the deep fielders frequently and pierced gaps when he wasn’t.
One of the former, a lofted six over long-off, had an unintended extra benefit for India; a leaping Khawaja appeared to turn an ankle leaping to try and reel the ball in, soon departing the field with the injury serious enough to prevent him from opening the batting.
And still Kohli marched on. Only the loosest of balls were sent to the boundary, with attacking Patel’s job; this was pure sadism from the veteran. Like Steve Smith, the Indian veteran is one who could and happily would bat for five days if required, with the thrill of getting to face the next ball almost equal to the thrill of dispatching it.
Kohli reached his 150 before finally beginning to accelerate; 39 runs were taken off the last seven overs before tea, bringing India a 39-run first innings lead. With Patel reaching his third half-century of the series, a final-session onslaught against an exhausted attack appeared on the cards.
And so it would prove: Patel would fall for 79 chopping on an attempted mow off Starc, but not before mowing Kuhnemann twice over mid-wicket.
Ashwin came in keen for a good time and not a long time, slog-sweeping Lyon to Kuhnemann in the deep for 7; but the focus now was on runs, not wickets.
As if to prove it, an ambitious second run from Kohli to retain the strike left Umesh Yadav high and dry, the tailender caught well short by a Handscomb direct hit from the deep – though in truth, he’d still have been well out even if Murphy had needed to collect the ball and remove the bails.
Finally, it was Kohli’s turn to fall; on 186, he forewent a double-century for the cause, caught in the deep off Murphy to spark another wave of applause from an Ahmedabad crowd that, despite the dullness of the day, certainly got what they had hoped for.
With still time for six overs left in the day, Head and Kuhnemann safely, if not entirely comfortably, negotiated Ashwin and Jadeja until stumps; but with their chances of victory evaporated in the Indian sun, and with it hopes of a drawn series, the very best the visitors can hope for is to finish the tour with a grinding draw.