LAWRENCE BOOTH: Virat Kohli is a one-man ball of unmitigated fury… but Test cricket will feel alive and vibrant for as long as he’s irritating opponents, provoking umpires and castigating crowds
- Virat Kohli didn’t impact the play against England but was the focus of the drama
- He stirred Jonny Bairstow, goaded Zak Crawley and argued with Alex Lees
- The former India captain’s struggles with the bat seem to have made him angrier
- Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine Test cricket without Kohli, an all-time great
It’s less than a year since Virat Kohli instructed his bowlers to give England ’60 overs of hell’ on the last day of the second Test at Lord’s – and proceeded to lead by example as India romped to a famous win.
He is no longer India’s captain, having quit in January, but on the evidence of the last four days at Edgbaston he remains their beating heart, their agent provocateur. Truly, he has hurled himself into the fray.
In one corner have been the combined forces of Baz-ball, the Hollies Stand and – before tea today – the fastest opening century partnership in England’s history. In the other has been, well, Virat Kohli, a one-man ball of mainly unmitigated fury who apparently regards it as his role to right wrongs, both real and imagined.
Virat Kohli blows a kiss to Jonny Bairstow after he was dismissed on day three at Edgbaston
Kohli is one of cricket’s all-time greats, despite a drought the length and breadth of the Kalahari that has seen him go without a century since November 2019.
But his batting struggles have not dimmed his love of a scrap. If anything, they made him angrier – a development thought impossible by the behavioural psychologists who have studied his antics down the years.
During this game, Kohli’s major contributions have not been with the bat, since he has managed just 11 and 20. Or at least they’ve not been with his bat.
In England’s first innings, his sledging stirred Jonny Bairstow from his slumbers, to the extent that a quiet start became a raucous century. Without it, Ben Stokes’s team would already be dead and buried.
In their second, he could be heard goading the out-of-form Zak Crawley with cries of ‘let’s see some Baz-ball then!’.
At the break for tea on day four, Kohli accompanied Alex Lees most of the way to the boundary
The former India captain’s struggles with the bat appear to have made him even more angry
By the time the outstanding Jasprit Bumrah – captain for this game because Rohit Sharma, Kohli’s replacement, caught Covid – dismissed Crawley, England’s openers had got the chase going with 107 inside 20 overs.
No matter. Kohli is not a man easily shaken from his convictions, and he used the wicket of Crawley to settle a score with the Hollies Stand, by now several beers into their shift.
Moments earlier, the more politically inclined among them had been singing in derogatory terms about Boris Johnson. Now Kohli turned to the spectators, and placed a regal finger to his lips – either because he thought the prime minister had been unfairly maligned, or because he thought they were singing about him. And, let’s face it, they often do.
Either way, he correctly sensed an opening. Making good use of the big Indian presence in a crowd of around 18,000, he began conducting the spectators like Simon Rattle. They responded as he must have hoped they would.
Kohli celebrates after Zak Crawley is dismissed to bring England’s opening stand to an end
But Kohli was merely warming to his task. When the players left the field soon after for tea, he accompanied Alex Lees most of the way to the boundary. It didn’t look entirely convivial. And when Bumrah removed Ollie Pope with the first ball after the break, Kohli could barely control himself.
It’s rare that an umpire has to ask a cricketer to go easy on the celebrations, but Aleem Dar decided to step in, presumably concerned that Kohli was about to burst a blood vessel, or worse.
Dar should have kept his powder dry. When Lees was run out moments later after he failed to respond in time to Joe Root’s call for a single, Kohli lost all control of his limbs.
England, meanwhile, had lost three for two. And Kohli, without taking a wicket, holding a catch, or effecting a run-out, was at the heart of it all.
When Ollie Pope was removed for a three-ball duck, Kohli could barely control himself
It’s possible English cricket lovers have been lulled into a false sense of peace and love by the New Zealanders, whose cricketers tend to apologise for a misplaced glare.
And perhaps Kohli’s perpetual anger is just the flipside of an argument we should be grateful to embrace: because as long as he’s getting agitated about the game’s oldest format, as long as he’s irritating opponents, provoking umpires and castigating crowds, Test cricket feels alive and vibrant and part of the conversation.
He’s a caricature who cares profoundly, a pantomime villain capable of real-life depth, a world-class cricketer who has lost his way with the bat without sacrificing his drive.
Even on his most combustible days, it’s hard to imagine Test cricket without Virat Kohli.
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