And suddenly it was all coming up Joe Root. The ball struck wide of mid-on, he didn’t even indulge in the pretence of running hard.
Helmet off, he extended his trot beyond the non-striker’s end and jumped for joy.
A third Test hundred in as many matches, and at his home ground. Headingley rose as one, including Root’s father, Matt. It was his first three-figure score at this venue since his maiden Test century, against New Zealand in 2013.
Virat Kohli has gone from bullish to foolish in the space of a chastening 48 hours of cricket
Virat Kohli looked on, stone-faced. If he acknowledged the event it was little more than a cursory, brief clap.
What a turnaround this has been. Imagine being Kohli, arriving in Leeds at the start of the week. King of the world, master of his domain. The man who had out-thought and out-fought England at the home of cricket. The warrior par excellence. Whatever happened to him?
From bullish to foolish. Cricket does that to you. Prior to this Test, Kohli was the epitome of confidence. No, he didn’t need England to be weak, to make mistakes, for India to triumph. They would beat Root’s team in any conditions, any time, any place, anywhere. He won the toss and elected to bat, happy he had the players to inflict further pain on England, despite not one of this team having played a Test in Leeds before.
On Thursday night, beneath grey Yorkshire skies, the folly of that certainty was still unfolding. England had not capitalised as they should, having reached 298 for two, but even so the game was being moved further and further out of India’s reach, the task ahead growing with each scoring blow.
The India captain entered the third Test with confidence soaring after India’s win at Lord’s
However, England have shocked the visitors led by the superb display of captain Joe Root
England now bat into day three, another session or part thereof, before it is India’s turn again. Already trailing by nearly 350, by then it will be a battle for survival.
Few sports afford as much time to reflect on mistakes. Kohli has now had more than a day in the field to play through his call at the toss, to reconsider tactical nuances, team selection.
And no sport presents an opportunity to make a face like Bob Hoskins in the back of an IRA assassin’s car at the end of The Long Good Friday, quite like cricket.
Speeding to his death, every mistake, every false step Hoskins has made as the gangster Harry Shand can be seen in his tensed muscles, the twitches around his eyes and mouth. Cricket turned the screw on Kohli in much the same way.
Before England’s middle order collapsed for little apparent reason late on, there were long periods on Thursday when India did not appear to know where the next wicket was coming from.
India were well off the pace for two sessions on Day Two, appearing way off getting a wicket
They took Dawid Malan immediately before tea with a review that appeared to be the product of Kohli having no better ideas than the one presented to him by Mohammed Siraj, that Malan may have flicked it into Rishabh Pant’s gloves. Even Pant — a man who would fancy his chances of convicting OJ Simpson on appeal with Johnnie Cochran picking the jury — seemed curiously disinterested. Kohli gave it a go, and it worked. Not much else did, until the third session of the day.
Leaving the world’s finest finger spinner out, for instance. That hasn’t aged well. Ravichandran Ashwin is yet to feature in this series and, 1-0 up arriving at Headingley, Kohli could claim no harm had been done. Maybe not now.
When India eventually get in, Moeen Ali is expected to play a far greater role than his two overs for four runs in India’s first innings. If he takes wickets, it will only shine a harsher light on the continued insistence of doing without Ashwin. Ali, even by his own admission, is not in Ashwin’s class.
And, yes, seam bowling fares better in English conditions, much as spin does in Asia. Yet when England had arguably the world’s most effective spinner in Graeme Swann, he would never have been exiled from a Test series here. Neither would Nathan Lyon.
Kohli’s decision to omit Ravichandran Ashwin could be borne of arrogance, but he may rue it
He seems desperate to win in England playing the English way, but that has backfired in Leeds
There seems more than a little hubris in Kohli’s — and India’s — treatment of a jewel like Ashwin. And he would have improved their low-order batting, too.
It is as if, having beaten England so comprehensively in domestic conditions with Ashwin close to unplayable last winter, Kohli now wants to win playing England’s way here, thus asserting the ultimate supremacy. Beat them at our game, then beat them at theirs.
It is a noble ambition in many ways, and certainly fits Kohli’s warrior complex, but only if it works out. Let this series slip, and certainly if India are beaten here, and selection matters will need addressing. Maybe pick the best team, the best players. Maybe stop trying to make it look easier than it is.
No, England do not have to be weak or in crisis for India to win, but the tourists need their greatest cricketers on the turf. Ravindra Jadeja chipped in, took two wickets, bowled plenty. What might Ashwin have done?
And yet, in the circumstances, the fighter in Kohli remains proudly visible. His catch off Mohammed Shami to dismiss Jonny Bairstow came at a time when Indian spirits could have been flagging, the players losing focus. Kohli was still engaged, on his game, alert to opportunity.
India salvaged five wickets towards the end of the second day but their task is near impossible
It was far from the easiest catch, low and dipping, yet he scooped it up, removed a genuine danger to India’s bowlers on 29, just as Bairstow threatened to get going. Had he properly teed off in support of Root, India could have been left with no possible way back into the game. There still isn’t much of one, but stranger things have happened at Headingley — and recently, too.
Still, third session collapses notwithstanding, it has been a fine and unexpected two days of Test cricket for England.
The last time the top four batsmen all passed 50 was 2013 in Dunedin, when even Steven Finn made a half century as night-watchman. And while this wasn’t perfect — Haseeb Hameed got bogged down, the low middle order failed — it was better than Root had any right to expect after losing his way as captain at Lord’s.
All eyes now turn to Kohli. He needs a king of the world innings to save his team, and his last Test hundred was in November 2019 against Bangladesh. It never gets any easier, this game.