AMID the avalanche of acclaim that attended Virat Kohli’s double hundred in Mumbai yesterday, perhaps the most prominent praise came from one of his predecessors as India captain.
Sunil Gavaskar, who led India in 47 Tests between 1976 and 1985, and who was the Kohli of his day in terms of popularity if not personality, purred with pride in his role as a media pundit.
“This really has been an outstanding innings from an outstanding young player,” insisted Gavaskar.
“He is only 28 and players tend to peak between 27 and 33, so imagine what he could be capable of.
“He came in to bat after the second ball of yesterday and after that he has taken India to a dominant position.
“From the word go everything was in the middle of the bat.
“It is one of the greatest double centuries you could ever hope to see.
“We’ve seen something truly special.”
Statistics highlight just how special was Kohli’s 235 on day four of the fourth Test.
It was his career-best score, beating his 211 against New Zealand at Indore only two months ago.
It was the highest score by an India captain, eclipsing MS Dhoni’s 224 against Australia in Chennai three years ago.
It was his third double hundred in Tests this year, a mark only previously reached by Don Bradman, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Brendon McCullum.
It lifted his Test average to over 50, making him the first man to simultaneously average over 50 in all three formats of international cricket.
It lifted his series aggregate to 640 and counting – the most by an Indian batsman against England.
One could go on, but there are only so many column inches.
Suffice to say that King Kohli produced a performance fit for the highest pantheon, one that took India to 631 in reply to England’s 400 before the tourists closed on 182-6, 49 behind.
To say that Kohli’s impact on this series has been significant is an understatement.
Take out his innings at the Wankhede Stadium – and stand of 241 with Jayant Yadav yesterday that was a record for India’s eighth-wicket in Tests – and England’s position would be promising as opposed to perilous.
Take out his contribution in the second Test at Visakhapatnam, where he totalled 248 runs in a match that England lost by 246 runs, and the game would clearly have been deliciously poised.
Almost single-handed, it seems that India’s leader is to be responsible for two of his side’s victories in the series if, as expected, the hosts go 3-0 up today to clinch the rubber.
Unlike his fellow countryman Sachin Tendulkar, who was sometimes criticised for not producing match-winning performances that defined series, the same charge could not be levelled at Kohli.
As one England supporter quipped on the BBC yesterday: “Without his runs this would have been an amazing Test match.
“Forget slow over-rates. Forget sledging. Forget match-fixing.
“Virat Kohli is ruining Test cricket.”
One can only imagine, as Sunil Gavaskar mused, what Kohli could be capable of as he enters into his peak years as a batsman.
According to the International Cricket Council rankings, Kohli is currently third on the list of the world’s best Test batsmen behind Steve Smith and Joe Root.
However, he is lifting his game to a whole new level and, in all cricket this year, he has scored more than 3,500 runs at an average approaching 90.
Like Tendulkar before him, Kohli has the remarkable ability to score big runs despite the huge burden of expectation on his shoulders from the adoring Indian public, which seems to inspire him on to greater heights rather than wear him down.
Arguments will flourish as to who is the world’s best batsman, with Smith and Root having their supporters along with such as New Zealand’s Kane Williamson, but Kohli is clearly one of the very best that the game has seen.
As an all-round package, you would struggle to find a better player today, for he seems as happy innovating in limited-overs cricket as he does playing technically-correct innings in the five-day game, where he presents a straight bat that might have been lifted from the MCC coaching manual and is somehow at variance with his street-fighting demeanour.
The battle between Kohli and Root was highlighted often in the build-up to the series, and Kohli has so far won that battle in his own conditions.
Whether he would win it on a green seamer in England is another matter; he had a wretched tour of England in 2014, when he averaged 13.4 in the five Tests, although he is clearly a much better player now. Not that Root has had a poor tour; far from it.
Going into today’s final day, the Yorkshireman was England’s leading run-scorer in the series with 397 at 49.62, his innings of 77 yesterday an admirable response to Kohli’s heroics.
Root, along with county colleague Jonny Bairstow (unbeaten on 50), took the attack to the Indians on a raging turner.
It prompted Michael Vaughan to tweet: “As good as @imVkohli innings was this play by @root66 is as good if not a little better considering the quality of spinners he is facing !!”
There was something in that, perhaps, but Kohli reigned supreme in his kingdom.