Joe Root leapt in the air, jubilantly waving his bat and helmet to a giddy Headingley crowd in scenes of celebration somewhat reminiscent of the mayhem sweeping the famous ground two years ago when Ben Stokes tore the heart out of Australia.
This was a pumped-up Root’s moment, as the England captain sealed his team’s domination of the third Test against India with a spectacular century on the second day. While Root’s baby-face beamed with ecstasy, his opposite number noticeably juxtaposed in the backdrop.
Virat Kohli, India’s talisman and cricket’s most famous player, appeared noticeably haggard, as his brows furrowed and his salt-and-pepper beard suddenly skewed gray like he had aged a decade overnight.
It was hard to blame him given India’s stranglehold of the blockbuster five-Test series had slipped. Kohli knew India had bungled their advantage after coming into the pivotal third Test with all the momentum following a stunning triumph at the home of cricket at Lord’s.
And so it proved with England crashing through India, including a stubborn Kohli, in a whirlwind opening session on day 4 to win by a convincing innings and 76 runs. It was quite the turnaround engineered by brilliant bowling on the opening day against a lethargic Indian batting line-up that one could have suspected enjoyed their second Test triumph a little too much.
India’s paltry first innings of 78 was utterly humiliating but the visitors were still not totally out of the contest just yet against essentially a one-man batting band. But India’s star-studded bowling attack failed to fire late on day one and an imperious Root – who finally had support and came to the crease with his team in a strong position – rammed home the advantage with his third ton of the series.
There were still nerves ahead for England, who are a jittery Test team compared to their powerhouse limited-overs sides, and India’s formidable batting line-up made a better fist in their second innings to end day three with hopes of a miraculous comeback victory.
Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara, their two most accomplished batsmen, had built a good partnership and England suddenly felt nervous. Would it be Root’s turn to age noticeably?
There would be no need for Root to worry as England shut the door on India to level the series. Shortly after notching a half-century, Kohli fell to revelation Ollie Robinson who would soon be holding his first player-of-the-Test award.
Kohli, so often honed in divine intervention, was hellbent on ending his century drought spanning 50 innings and almost two years. All his trademark characteristics of grit and determination were evident in Kohli, who despite his fame and fortune is a street fighter when he crosses the white line.
His much-loved fluency, which had been absent due to struggles playing on the off-side, started to gain steam fuelling anticipation that Kohli was returning to his brilliant best right when India needed him to put the cape on.
But the 32-year-old’s superpowers are waning these days, as he nibbled at a length ball from Robinson outside off to essentially end India’s resistance. A glum Kohli trudged off Headingley knowing India were in a major dogfight in this series as he has completely been outplayed by red-hot Root.
The England captain impressively galvanized a shorthanded England, who had previously badly missed the swagger of Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer. But Root’s confidence has rubbed off on his charges, most notably Robinson who has been a major find for England.
The 27-year-old Robinson’s career looked at the crossroads when he was stood down in July after receiving an eight-match ban for historical racist and sexist tweets. But he’s back in the fold and – along with returning bowling all-rounder Craig Overton – has helped shore up England’s bowling stock following the injuries of Archer and star veteran Stuart Broad.
England are well and truly back in the series due largely to the willpower of Root, who is having a year for the ages. He was once part of cricket’s so-called ‘big four’ of batsman along with Kohli, Australia’s Steve Smith and Kane Williamson from New Zealand before dropping a peg back due to a frustrating inability to convert 50s into centuries.
But that has all changed during a scintillating 2021, where he has already scored six Test centuries and is on track to finish with the greatest ever calendar year as an Ashes tour still beckons.
With Kohli struggling and the once impregnable Smith’s career stalled due to a lack of opportunities during the pandemic, Root has made his move with this stretch of brilliance cementing him as an all-timer and probably England’s greatest ever Test batsman.
Having come up short, Kohli needs to respond in a bid to get a stuttering India back on track as their hopes for complete world domination is once again on hold. Having already taken down Australia away from home this year, India was hopeful of securing a prized double but a rejuvenated England now stand in their way.
An unwavering Kohli has badly wanted India to not just be Test’s best but to overwhelm the competition much like modern greats ‘80s West Indies and Steve Waugh’s Australia. Consistency, however, has continued to be their bane away from home.
Maybe this is just a speed bump along the way but the fourth Test at the Oval starting on September 2 is set to be defining. Kohli is undoubtedly crestfallen with the result but there is reason to believe that his team still has a bucket load of self-belief and goodwill.
Even though he is a firebrand, Kohli was often smiling and giggling while in the field despite India undergoing a horror performance. Amid such an arduous schedule, where this Test series has been crammed in and with the pandemic taking such a toll for travel-weary cricketers, Kohli probably knows that total domination is a fantasy right now.
He’s playing the long game and undoubtedly feels confident India will lift when the series is truly up for grabs.
But can Kohli turn back the clock himself? He better otherwise he might just sport a few more grays.