England v India: Virat Kohli is the show on day two after brilliant century

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First Specsavers Test, Edgbaston (day two of five)
England 287 (Root 80, Bairstow 70; Ashwin 4-62) & 9-1
India 274 (Kohli 149, Curran 4-74)
England lead by 22 runs

For some, greatness is not enough.

Being the star attraction is all well and good, but not fully satisfying. They have no interest in being best in the show. They want to be the show.

Not only that, but their desire to succeed is so overwhelming that it becomes inevitable, regardless of the seemingly impassable obstacles.

Think Cristiano Ronaldo’s last-minute World Cup equaliser against Spain or Lewis Hamilton winning the German Grand Prix from 14th on the grid. Superstars making the extraordinary seem like their destiny just because they are who they are.

Which brings us to Virat Kohli and the India captain’s 149 on the second day of the first Test against England at Edgbaston, a century where the brilliance was only surpassed by its predictability, no matter the stacked odds or good fortune he experienced along the way.

In fact, it was predictable because of the stacked odds and the good luck.

This Test revolved around Kohli almost 24 hours before it began.

On the eve of the first match of a series, captains get together to pose for pictures with the trophy. Kohli made Joe Root wait for so long that, eventually, the England skipper went off to record an entire interview with the BBC.

Once Kohli had finally faced the photographers, he was presented to the media for the sort of news conference that seemed more fitting for an aftershow party at the Oscars, rather than to preview a cricket match.

Reporters crammed in, questions were only permitted to be asked by travelling journalists. Mostly fawning, rather than probing.

Kohli listened to each one intently, then gave full and polite answers. The spotlight bathed him like a halo, the only imperfection coming from the flecks of grey in his beard.

Still, he was fooling no-one when he claimed that he had nothing to prove in England. When greatness is your game, an average of 13.40 in conditions where the ball is often king simply won’t do.

A first day spent in the field meant he would have to wait for his chance to begin to put that right but, even then, Kohli made sure he wasn’t just part of the story. He was the story.

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Direct hit, Root run out. Kohli blows kisses and puts his finger to his lips. Root’s ‘mic drop’ comes back to haunt him. Kohli, stewing over Root’s temerity at the end of the one-day series, once again becomes the centre of attention with the sort of pre-determined showmanship that could land him a role as the lead in a West End show.

At that point, did anyone really believe that something other than batting magnificence would follow?

At the fall of India’s second wicket on Thursday morning, Kohli was down the dressing-room steps and across the boundary rope almost before fallen comrade KL Rahul had dragged himself from the square. A touch of the grass with the right hand on arrival, then into the work.

As all fell around him, Kohli watched on, waging his own war with old nemesis James Anderson.

The ball swinging, Kohli playing and missing, initially looking a shadow of himself. Twice he needed catches to go to ground, both by second slip Dawid Malan. Anderson first, then Ben Stokes were the bowlers. You make your own luck.

Through it all, the exterior remained the same.

The sweat band on the left forearm, the towel tucked into the waistband of the trousers. Scraping the guard with the right foot, adjusting the right glove, then the left. Maybe a walk to square leg, maybe a prod of the pitch, maybe standing perfectly still with the bat resting on the inside thigh.

The battle was fought from a stance outside the crease. Taps of the bat came in no more than pairs, the willow then raised straight behind with perfect balance, like a bottle of wine suspended in an angled piece of wood.

So eager to get on the front foot, he was there almost before the ball was delivered, the leather met with a stride so big Kohli was in danger of splitting his trousers.

Gradually, the trademarks appeared. The cover drive, the flick to fine leg. Singles were pinched, on more than one occasion to Root himself. Yet more taunting of the England captain, who could not get his run-out revenge.

If the first half-century was a battle between Kohli and the England bowlers, then the second was a battle between Kohli and his own tailenders. When India lost their eighth wicket, Kohli had 67 to his name.

The field was spread, England were set for a lead, but everything that had gone before – Stokes, Anderson and Sam Curran – was forgotten.

The game, the story, was Kohli. Already it was his best performance in England, but a monkey-off-the-back century? Yet again, that feeling of pre-ordination when Ishant Sharma successfully overturned being given lbw to Anderson not once, but twice.

Ishant saw Kohli to 97. Number 11 Umesh Yadav kept out two deliveries from Adil Rashid. Kohli versus Stokes, one blow from a hundred.

A cut for four was followed by an earth-shattering scream of celebration. There was a kiss for the wedding ring that hangs around his neck, a nod to accusations that then-girlfriend, now-wife Anushka Sharma was a distraction on the previous trip to England. A mile-wide grin through the perfectly groomed beard, another kiss for the face of the bat.

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What followed was a destruction of an England attack that had fielders posted in all parts of Birmingham. India added another 53 runs. Umesh scored one of them.

When England were bowling to Kohli with six men on the leg side, it looked like they had exhausted all of their plans for the India skipper and returned to blueprints for Steve Smith. There was a moment of stunned silence when he finally cut Rashid to Stuart Broad at point.

Twice Kohli led the players from the field. The first time showing his bat to all corners of the arena, the second time after India’s short spell in the field, saluting with his faded blue cap.

It is a sight we should probably get used to for the rest of summer.

We are all extras in the Virat Kohli show.

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BBC Sport – Cricket

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