The great batsmen dominate everywhere. They pile on the runs at home and they lead the assault away, too. There’s no doubting Virat Kohli’s standing as a modern great, indeed he’s probably the best ODI batsman of all time. But in Test cricket, he has one obvious black mark against him which stands out like a sore thumb – his record in England.
India’s 2014 tour of England showed signs of promise, with a victory at Lord’s, before petering out into a 3-1 defeat. Kohli, at that time, was blossoming into the cricketer we see today and would get his first taste of captaincy later that year. There was an eager sense of anticipation to see how he would fare in English conditions.
To say he flopped is something of an understatement. In his 10 innings across the five Tests, Kohli mustered 134 runs with a high score of 39. James Anderson had him on toast and he left with his tail between his legs.
This, however, is 2018 and things are somewhat different. Since taking over the captaincy from MS Dhoni, Kohli has averaged 65.20, where he averaged 41.13 as non-captain. He has grabbed the leadership with real zeal and where Dhoni showed apathy towards away tours, Kohli is desperate to win. A man with a keen sense of history, he knows that his side will be judged on its performances away from home.
This year is India’s Everest. Away Test tours of South Africa, England and Australia have offered a shot at immortality. Whilst they lost 2-1 in South Africa, India won the final Test and Kolhi was only keen to use that as a signpost to what his side can achieve. He was also enjoyed an exceptional series personally.
India arrive in England at a good time, too. There is uncertainty in the English ranks, with problems throughout the batting order and an attack low of confidence after a torrid winter. There is also the added benefit of the weather. England has been basking in a lengthy heatwave, with the arid conditions likely to bring the spinners into play more prominently than they might usually expect in England. This could quite literally be an Indian summer.
Kohli will realise the opportunity that lies in front of his side and will also realise that he needs to play a major role if India are to succeed. The online bookies think he will, too, with Kohli favourite to lead the way in the run scoring department for India. If he averages 13.4 again, India will be in trouble.
There’s another element for him personally, too. His record in England is holding him back, an obvious stain on an otherwise impressive body of work. He is yet to register a century in England or Bangladesh, although he has only played one Test in the latter as there isn’t enough money to be made by the BCCI in going there. There is also the fact that Kohli has never played Pakistan, home or away, in Test cricket.
There is a nice dovetailing between the big four at the moment, with Kohli (66 Tests average 53.40), Steve Smith (64 Tests, average 61.37), Kane Williamson (65 Tests, average 50.35) and Joe Root (69 Tests, average 52.28) having broadly similar records. Not one of them has a scored century everywhere they have gone, though.
Williamson is the closest and is the only one to have registered a century in Bangladesh, although his record in South Africa, where he averages 21.16, holds him back. That is the lowest away average of the group after Kohli’s 13.4 in England (minimum four Tests played). Smith hasn’t registered a century in Bangladesh or the UAE, although he’s only played twice in each and has a top score of 97 in the latter and Root lacks centuries in Australia, Bangladesh, New Zealand and UAE, although has only played twice in Bangladesh and thrice in UAE.
This England tour represents not only a shot at achieving a major team goal, but also in reaching a significant personal milestone for Kohli. The beauty for him is that the two objectives are linked. This is Kohli’s final frontier and the stars seem aligned for him to succeed.
By Miles Reucroft