Skipper Virat Kohli yet again stamped his authority with a brilliant unbeaten century as he powered India to a commendable 451 for seven against England on the third day of the fourth Test here on Saturday.
Kohli’s 147 — his 15th Test hundred — and an equally confident 136 by Murali Vijay enabled India to extend their first-innings lead to 51 runs in reply to England’s 400.
The unbroken eighth-wicket stand of 87 between Kohli and rookie Jayant Yadav (30) is expected to have a significant bearing on the outcome of the match.
The day, however, belonged to Kohli, who is fast becoming India’s new ‘Milestone Man’ in every format. Providing an exhibition of top quality Test batsmanship on a track that offered significant turn and bounce, Kohli’s near six-hour effort (359 minutes) was a treat for the capacity crowd at the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday.
En route his hundred, he completed 1000 Test runs in a calender year and also completed a personal landmark of 4000 runs in the five-day format. The 15th Test ton also took him past Gundappa Viswanath’s tally of 14. The 241-ball knock was studded with 17 boundaries.
Apart from his stand with Jayant, he was also involved in a 116-run partnership with the other centurion Vijay, who hit 10 fours and three sixes in his patient effort that saw him face 282 balls. This was Vijay’s 8th hundred, and a timely one, after successive failures in Visakhapatnam and Mohali.
If Kohli and Jayant continue in the same vein on Sunday and extend the lead past 100 runs, it will be an onerous task for the Englishmen to make a comeback as they will be batting third on a track where facing Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja may not exactly be the easiest of task at hand.
For England, spinners Moeen Ali (2/139), Adil Rashid (2/152) and Joe Root (2/18) accounted for six of the seven Indian wickets to fall.
India, in fact, suffered a mini collapse during the post lunch session after Vijay’s departure. The home team lost four wickets in 17 overs while moving from 262 to 307, but Kohli found effective lower-order partners in Jadeja (25) and Jayant to pilot India past the England score and place his team in an advantageous position.
The India captain — who came into the game with a string of scores earlier in the series that read 40, 49 not out, 167, 81, 62 and 6 not out batted in his now familiar, resolute fashion by eschewing risks, but still scored at a good rate to put India ahead in the first innings.
Vijay, on the other hand, had come into this match after not doing particularly well in the previous two Tests won by India at Vizag and Mohali and after losing his second wicket partner Cheteshwar Pujara to the second ball of the day, combined forces with his captain to negate the spin threat posed by Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid.
England stuck back post-lunch by dismissing Vijay and three other Indian batsmen in quick succession.
Vijay was taken out for 136, his second ton of the series after the knock of 126 in the opening game at Rajkot, Karun Nair (13), wicket keeper batsman Parthiv Patel (15) and Ravichandran Ashwin (0) to help England wrest back the initiative.
But a stubborn Kohli held one end up to ensure the lead for the hosts, adding 41 runs with Jadeja and then continued in the same vein with Jayant Yadav.
Surprisingly, the visitors in spite of having four pacemen in the ranks did not take the second new ball till the 130th over by which time the home team had gone past their own score.
In the morning, the hosts lost Cheteshwar Pujara to the second ball without the batsman adding to his overnight score of 47. He shouldered arms to the second ball of the day from rookie pacer Jake Ball and had his off-stump tilted to end his 107-run stand with Vijay.
Vijay was joined by Kohli and they batted diligently to take the team to 247 for 2 at lunch, with Vijay on 124 and Kohli on 44.
Vijay joined the ranks of Sunil Gavaskar (5 tons) and Virender Sehwag (1) as only third Indian opener to compile a hundred in 25 games at this venue and the first in 14 years after Sehwag’s 147 against the West Indies in October, 2002.
Gavaskar’s 205 is the highest of the list while his 108 in February 1977 against the side led by Tony Greig was the last century by an Indian opener against England at this ground before Vijay’s.
England’s hopes of making further inroads after the Pujara dismissal were belied as Kohli simply dug in from the first ball.
Kohli, during the course of his knock, became the 14th Indian batsman, and the only one among active players to reach 4000 runs in his 52nd Test with a pull shot off Ben Stokes.
Vijay, 124 at lunch, departed within 15 minutes after resumption of play by knocking back a full-toss from leggie Adil Rashid, which the bowler grabbed on the second attempt. Vijay was, in fact given out leg before on 116, twelve minutes before lunch, while playing a defensive forward push off Rashid. The decision was reviewed and he was reinstated as the ball had taken the inside edge before striking the pad.
The importance of Vijay’s long vigil became evident after his departure as Nair was claimed by Moeen Ali and then Joe Root struck two blows in successive overs to trigger a mini collapse.
India, 262 for two, slumped to 307 for 6, by losing four wickets in 17 overs before Kohli and Jadeja held fort till tea with an unfinished partnership of 41 in 53 balls.
Nair was trapped leg before Moeen Ali from round the wicket, the Indians’ review call failing, before Root dismissed both Patel and Ashwin in the space of four balls in separate overs.
Things could have been worse had Rashid not dropped Kohli off his own bowling in the next over when the Indian captain was 68 in a score of 315.
He led the hunt for the first innings lead with Jadeja who once stepped out and lofted Root for a six over the straight field.
After Jadeja fell, holing out in the deep off Rashid after striking a couple of fours and one six, Kohli and Jayant Yadav produced a defiant, unfinished stand that not only took the home team past the visitors’ total, but also helped them take a handy first innings lead. Yadav too was dropped by Root at second slip off James Anderson in the first over with the second new ball when the batsman was just 8.
Wankhede almost full as fans continue to throng stadium
The Wankhede Stadium was almost packed to its capacity on Saturday as spectators continued to throng the venue to witness the fourth cricket Test between India and England here. The Garware, Divecha, MCA, Sunil Gavaskar and Vijay Merchant pavilions were nearly filled, and so was the Sachin Tendulkar stand, which was mostly occupied by English fans on the fourth day.
The city is hosting a Test after three years, the last being Tendulkar’s 200th, which was also his farewell game, against the West Indies in 2013. A Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) official said that around 22,000 people were in attendance at the stadium on Saturday. The stadium witnessed similar crowds for matches involving India during the World T20, which was held earlier this year.
“We anticipated this crowd as it was a Saturday. We are expecting a similar attendance tomorrow (Sunday) and if Virat Kohli keeps batting, it could be full,” said the official.