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Virat Kohli’s 149 was remarkable because he overcame himself for a greater cause

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The legend of Kohli the batsman grows each day. Perhaps, he will also one day be a leader of men and the best cricketer in the world.

The Australians take a grudging dislike to him, instinctively, because he is one of their own. The English don’t quite know what to make of him because he is so different from what they are used to respecting in Indians. The South Africans did not take much notice till he scored twin hundreds at their fortress, the Wanderers; the Sri Lankans unleashed Ajantha Mendis on the greatest Indian batting line-up ever assembled, and then they ran into this guy.

Virat Kohli is a complex character who defies definition by any reasonable standards. Just like the most beautiful woman at a pageant, Kohli knows just what his place is in the larger scheme of things. And there are few more dangerous things in life and sport than a person who is special and knows it. Kohli sahib knows he is the best batsman in Indian cricket, by a country mile, but that’s not all.

As captain, Kohli is no Mike Brearley or Imran Khan, neither exceptional man-manager nor tactical genius. If anything, he is more Arjuna Ranatunga — dictatorial, entitled, and with a carte blanche to throw the dice to anyone he sees fit.

That mandate comes from a cricket board that goes beyond backing its captain, it speaks to a Committee of Administrators who eat out of his hands, a selection committee that does his bidding without being asked to, and a coaching set up that knows their longevity depends on how they fit into his scheme of things.

Virat Kohli is probably the best batsman in the world at the moment. Steve Smith, Joe Root, Kane Williamson are all capable of excellence, but not one of them have a chance of controlling their environment and ruling the roost as Kohli does.

Coming back to bat and ball, Kohli was beyond exceptional at Edgbaston. The ball swung throughout the day, something Mike Atherton, the former England captain, attributed to a high water table, and where other batsmen were fidgety, Kohli was clear.

Standing out of his crease to James Anderson, keeping his footwork minimal while striking the ball with his head perfectly stationary, Kohli delivered a masterclass in batting.

When Kohli was on 21, Dawid Malan dropped him; Anderson squaring up the batsman and drawing the most straightforward edge. In and out.

At 52, Malan dropped Kohli once more, this time going from third slip across towards second slip. Malan may have been trying to make good his earlier lapse but he only ended up compounding the error.

When you bat in England, the edge will be drawn. What you do before and after defines you. And Kohli’s innings of 149 was remarkable because he overcame himself for a greater cause. Kohli does not like to be dominated, Kohli has no interest in being tamed, Kohli will not surrender.

Yet, he did not try to hit himself and his India out of a hole. He maintained the kind of fierce focus, watching every ball, reading every cue from the bowler, stiffing every challenge from the opposite captain, merely staying at the crease, batting and scoring runs.

Kohli stood between England and India through the sheer force of his will. As a batsman, no bowler or statistician can undermine him. But where numbers don’t make the man, Kohli stood tall.

Anderson was the greatest threat but Kohli stood out of the crease to him — and he is no medium-pacer — meeting the ball early and playing it late. In a tight spell, Kohli left Anderson outside off like a king, inviting him to attack the stumps, defusing his weapons of mass destruction, and making him bowl where it was easy to pick off.

Kohli deserved a century, richly, while all those around him floundered. And when he got there, it was mission accomplished.

With no batsmen around for support, he could’ve gone big and gone home. But Kohli did not, instead boring and coring England with a 57-run partnership for the final wicket in which Umesh Yadav scored one run.

The legend of Kohli the batsman grows each day as his ability to carry lesser mortals in his team improves. Perhaps, he will also one day be a leader of men and the best cricketer in the world.

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