England completed a thrilling 31 run win at Edgbaston on Sunday morning, to go 1-0 up in the series. Beginning the morning needing five wickets, England polished off the tail in front of an enthusiastic and boisterous crowd.
A closely fought match has given us the delicious feeling this could be a gripping series with each match going down to the wire. How refreshing it is to have a contest where the battle between bat and ball was so even.
One particular moment from the match may set the tone for the rest of the series though, and it concerns the visiting captain, Virat Kohli.
The Great Hope
Kohli is the great hope for India. His players and the nation love him, worship him. He is probably the best batsman in the world right now. His innings on the second day was one of the finest I’ve seen in this country. If his name was Steve Waugh then we wouldn’t have been surprised. It was a masterclass in patience and dominance at the right time.
But the moment which may have caused him and his team a problem came during England’s first innings.
England were 216-3 with Joe Root not out on 80 and Jonny Bairstow unbeaten on 65. Much has been made of Root’s failure to turn half-centuries into centuries, and he looked utterly determined to put things right this time. But then came a moment of brilliance from Kohli the fielder and Root was run out short of his ground, going for a second run which was never really there. Kohil was at mid-wicket and his throw hit the stumps without any need for intervention from Ashwin, who was standing over the stumps.
In that moment you felt Kohli had produced something which might galvanise his side.
Then came the mic drop.
The mic drop refers to the moment at Headingley two weeks before. Chasing down 257, Root lead England to a thumping eight wicket victory to seal the ODI series. As Root hit his tenth four, he not only completed the win but also brought up an excellent ton. He calmly walked down the pitch and dropped his bat in a manner to depict a mic drop.
Not sure it was anything more than just an amusing way of celebrating a victory. Geraint Thomas performed the same celebration after his victory speech at the end of the Tour de France recently. It’s evolved from rock music and signifies the end of a performance.
Kohli, for some reason, took this personally as if it had been aimed at him.
His team had been thoroughly beaten at Leeds yet England didn’t appear to be gloating. Kohli seemed to think they were.
Right in the moment of celebration of running his opposite number out, Kohli mimicked his own mic drop. He followed this with an expletive uttered in Punjabi so as to avoid the wrath of the Match Referee.
It was a send-off. It appeared crass and bitter.
Why wasn’t Root’s celebration considered crass and bitter? It wasn’t aimed at India’s captain, it was simply a way of saying, “There you go, there’s my hundred, we’ve reached the total required. Let’s go home. Job done.” It wasn’t gloating, it wasn’t arrogant. Root’s neither of these things.
It was clear Root’s celebration had got to him and he was giving it back to the England captain. But did he reveal a chink in his armour for England to exploit further on in the series?
Chink In The Armour
It did galvanise his team. England went from 216-3 to 287 all out. They lost Root, Bairstow and Buttler for the addition of just eight runs. The feeling was very much they were gaining the advantage over a side who had elected to bat first.
One of the issues with a celebration such as this is it needs to come in the moment of victory. England fought back.
At 182-8 and still 105 behind, India were struggling as England’s latest boy-wonder, Sam Curran, had taken four wickets.
Kohli dragged his side kicking and screaming to within four runs of England’s total. His 149 was astonishing in its determination and sheer bloody-mindedness.
It reminded me of Steve Waugh, or Steve Smith or perhaps Allan Border.
This is where I believe Kohli handed the initiative to his counterpart.
Neither Border or Waugh would ever concede anything to the opposition. They would never let the opposition believe they had got one over on them. Yet with his mic drop Kohli has opened himself up to showing he took whatever bait he believed Root had laid out for him.
He followed this up with 51 in the second innings and when a fired-up Ben Stokes trapped him in front, you knew the Indian challenge was over.
Ultimately, he lost the match. You can say his team let him down. He scored almost half of his side’s total runs for the game, so he’d more than added his share. But the mic drop so early in the game will now open him up to ridicule whenever his wicket falls for the rest of the series.
Moral High Ground
It’s unlikely you’ll see any of the England players repeat the celebration. Why would they? They’re in the lead. They can just let the supporters give it to Kohli.
His facial expression at the moment of the runout showed he was clearly rattled. Had he performed the action with a smile on his face and maybe a “Touché, Monsieur Pussycat”, then everyone could see he was showing it hadn’t affected him and he was just getting his own back. But he chose the more aggressive route (pardon the pun), and personally I believe he’s shown himself susceptible to a jibe.
Kohli has an odd relationship with audiences worldwide. It’s common to hate on an opposition captain. It’s on the same lines as the old West Indian tactic of getting at the captain, so you get at the team. There’s no doubting his ability as one of the best players in the world, but he’s hardly the most popular person.
There’s an arrogance about him. Whilst that isn’t necessarily a reason to dislike him, there appears to be little humility, a quality required in order to endear yourself to your hosts.
Much has been made by many on social media of the England captain’s inability to convert fifties into hundreds. But some stats which came up during the Edgbaston Test were that his conversion rate of 0-50 is as high as Bradman’s was. He has passed fifty 54 times in 124 innings, yet he only has 13 tons. He averages over fifty. As cricket is a team game surely this is as much as you can ask for from one of your top batsmen, isn’t it?
Contrast this with Kohli’s figures. He has passed fifty 39 times in 114 innings and averages 54.28 compared to Root’s 52.18.
So for all Kohli’s 22 hundreds, 9 more than Root, you only get two more runs per innings from him. Is Root’s conversion rate that much of a problem? Does it really impact that much on his team? It clearly bothers him too, but as England bat deep then if he contributes as least fifty each innings the rest of the batting line-up should be able to play their part.
Given how brittle India’s batting appear in Birmingham they may need more than fifty each time from their captain if they are to compete.
The Second Test begins on Thursday at Lord’s and it will be interesting to see how the tourists find their way back into the series.