Like every overseas Test series, especially in SENA countries ( South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia), there is a sense of excitement on the first morning, even if the clock is showing 4 AM in India and you have just woken up from your sleep. As often said, the first day/session/over/inning sets the tone of how the game is going to unfold. Everyone wants to start at a great note but for some reason, Kohli doesn’t find it easy to get going while batting on the first day of an overseas Test series or does he? Let’s take a look.
Just to put this into context, on first day of the series(in either morning, afternoon or evening session), Kohli has come to bat on 8 occasions in an away Test. 4 of them have been in SENA countries. He has failed in 6 out of those 8 innings and its important to note the extent of failures as well. On all those 6 occasions, he has been dismissed in the single figures.
England tour, 2014 – Dismissed on 1 in Trent Bridge
It all began on the first morning of that infamous tour of England in 2014 where his bat could yield only 139 runs at an average of 13.90. Kohli walks in after lunch on the first day as India have just lost Pujara on a relatively easier surface. The score reads 106-2 and Kohli looks disciplined. It’s a massive tour and he wants to make it count. He leaves 5 out of his 7 balls, dabs the one to point for a single and fends one at square leg.
On the 8th ball, he needlessly pokes a ball which is on the 5th stump line. A thick edge carries to Ian Bell at second slip and that’s how a nightmare tour begins. The Test ends in a draw but Kohli fails to score anything significant in second inning too.
Sri Lanka tour, 2017 – Dismissed on 3 in Galle
Out walks with Dhawan getting dismissed on the stroke of tea. India’s score is 280-2 and there is no pressure on Kohli or any batsman at the moment. The pitch is flat and so are Sri Lankan spirits. Kohli comes in line and nicely defends a good length ball, ducks a bouncer next and punches one to mid on to open his account before they go for a Tea break.
Two balls of Herath after Tea, two defensive pushes on the off side. An uncertain jab, a beautiful punch pass cover for a couple and then comes another Day 1 failure. Kohli tries to hook a rising delivery off Pradeep but the ball makes contact with 2 gloves. One is of Kohli and the other is of Dickwella, the wicketkeeper. Kohli has been dismissed on 3(8). He scores a brilliant 100 at a strike rate of 75 in the next inning making up for his first inning failure.
Australia tour, 2018-19 – Caught on 3 in Adelaide
After all the misfortune in England, India have finally won the toss in an away Test but the most hyped series in India’s overseas cricket circle has seen India already struggling on the first morning after losing the wickets of Rahul and Pujara. The expectations are high from Indian captain who has done exceedingly well in England coming in similar match situations.
Kohli starts well, plays couple of balls off his hips to on side and gets off the mark. He is conscious against Starc who is supposed to be the biggest threat with the new ball. Whereas he doesn’t play a single false shot against Starc, he plays 3 in the 5 balls he faces of Hazlewood in the next over. Cummins comes in as the first change, produces a thick outside edge of Kohli’s bat and luckily for him and Australia, Khwaja holds on to a stunner. Another failure for Kohli on the first morning as he departs leaving India in massive trouble.
West Indies tour, 2019 – Dismissed on 9 in Antigua
It’s the beginning of a new chapter in India’s Test history as India are playing their first match of the World Test Championship. Kemar Roach has dismissed both Mayank Agarwal and Pujara in one over to welcome Kohli at 7-2.
He starts with his trademark square drive which follows some defensive shots before Kohli capitalizes on another scoring opportunity, this time past mid on. Yes, he is looking good. Suddenly Gabriel, the bowler starts bowling short which gives Kohli some discomfort. He tries to play a square cut but the ball gets big on him as he guides the ball straight to Gully. One more opportunity to set the tone early in a series goes for a toss. Kohli is dismissed on 9(12).
New Zealand tour, 2020 – Caught Taylor b Jamieson : 2(7), Wellington
In walks the number one ranked Test batsman with a lots of expectations, something he is not alien to. The debutante Kyle Jamieson, who has just dismissed Cheteshwar Pujara with a peach of a delivery welcomes him with a short ball. The next ball is again short. Kohli doesn’t play the third ball either.
The next over from Jamieson to Kohli is slightly better. He bowls full, Kohli gets on his knees and checks the cover drive. He plays 3 balls before the memories of the horrible England tour flashes into mind. On a ball around the 5th stump line, he pokes & edges one to Taylor at first slip. Virat Kohli is dismissed early and Kohli fans who woke up early in the morning to watch him bat are shattered. It includes me too. With 40-3, India are in deep trouble, they still are at the end of Day 1.
West Indies tour, 2011 – Caught Baugh b Edwards : 4(10), Jamaica
Out of all the first inning failures, this would be the least worrisome example. It was Kohli’s debut inning so not a lot can be concluded from it. However, it is still recorded in the history books and why not?
The Debutante walks out to bat at 5 after the dismissal of VVS Laxman. He can breathe a little easy as he is facing Devendra Bishoo, a leg spinner for his first 5 balls. He oozes into confidence as he plays a leg glance to score his first Test run (boundary). And two balls later, he is taking a disappointing walk back to the pavilion after he pokes a ball outside off stump to offer the wicketkeeper Baugh an easy catch before lunch. But in conclusion, it’s his debut inning.
Now, it is not only the failures which should be counted. He has also gone on to score a couple of hundreds while coming to bat on the first day. One of the two tons has been converted into a double hundred as well.
119 against South Africa in 2013
His first 100 coming on the first day came way back in 2013 when India toured South Africa. He starts his inning against an attack comprising of peak Steyn, Philander and Morne Morkel. They don’t give you an inch which is evident from the scoreboard which reads 24-2 in the 16th over. On a pitch and against an attack where every Indian batsman has found it difficult to score, Kohli not just scores a scintillating century but he scores it a strike rate of 66. It still remains his only 100 in SENA countries while coming to bat on Day 1.
200 against West Indies in 2016
While Kohli the limited overs batsman has already become a giant, Kohli the Test batsman is still trying to transform his ODI performances into Test arena. He goes to West Indies after 5 months of stunning T20 cricket. It’s time to dominate the Test cricket as well and boy, here comes his first Double hundred in Test (On Day 2). He scores exactly 200 and it is only the second moment in his 9 years old Test career that he has made a triple or even double digit score while walking into bat on Day 1.
2 success but 6 failures, could this just be a coincidence that he gets out cheaply in first innings? Are we reading too much between the lines? As the great Rahul Dravid once said he was more a failure than success because he failed to score 50+ on 410 out of 604 occasions in his career. Well, that was just a modest, humble and typical gentlemanly person talking about his life trying not to praise himself as hard as he could.
While he is undoubtedly the best in the business but at the same time, is the ratio of 2-6 sufficient to say Kohli isn’t the same force when he comes to bat in the first inning on the first day of an away Test series? Personally, think so.