There is a great little story. A story of a passionate cricketer, turning out to be a majestic match-winner and the best in the business. It is the story of a transformation from a chubby Punjabi boy from Delhi to the fittest cricketer in the world, beating the heavy odds at the world’s toughest venues. It is a story of a cricketer’s indomitable spirit taking on the world to make sure there is nothing unconquerable as far as the echelon of batting is concerned. The end product has to be prolific because we are talking about Virat Kohli – the most significant and influential cricketer of our times.
Yet, the tag always comes to haunt you. If you set a standard, you better live up to it. As he himself admitted in the pre-match presser, he was always going to be judged by his own high standards. There would be no adequacy that would be enough to the void with gold dust.
Hence, for everything that has happened in the last two years and for everything that is going to happen from here on, January 11, 2022, would forever remain as the red-letter day in the Virat Kohli folklore. A valiant 74 in Adelaide, or a show of jaw-dropping finesse against England in Chennai, or his half-centuries at Leeds and The Oval, Kohli had his share of knocks he would treasure in this bare-run but none as disciplined as this, none as impeccable as this.
To understand the true essence of this Newlands knock objectively, let’s make sense of how he got there. Apart from that 30-ball phase between 61-90 where he had a false shot percentage of 23.3 percent (Rabada's third spell), in none of the other phases of this innings, it crossed the 15 percent range. That speaks about the kind of adjustment Kohli made to his batting today - a batter who may not be in the pink of his form, but is ready to make amends.
In the first Test, Kohli attempted drives well outside of his ninth stump line, being dismissed twice in the process. He attempted nine drives in the first Test through the off-side, among which only one went for a chancy four, yet there was no real substance to back his strength. The call for a Sachin-esque SCG knock grew louder, and probably it was the only thing that was going to help him recover from the slump.
And it did. The paradigm shift in the mentality came in the first session of the day. The Indian skipper decided to leave anything and everything that came on the corridor of uncertainty, even if that meant Cheteshwar Pujara outscoring him in the process. He got to the slowest away half-century of his Test career but refused to fall into Duanne Olivier and Kagiso Rabada’s trap of drawing him forward. His trigger resisted him from planting his front-foot forward as he nicely left those away swingers and seamers to build the base. Often in sport words like grit, determination, and patience are used as random throwaway punches, but every single word made perfect sense to approve this knock’s greatness.
A century would have been the icing on the cake, but a hundred is nothing but a mere number accentuated by the human infatuation for a perfect binary. But the quest to get there has been the parameter of greatness in the sport and no one better than the Delhite knows this truism better.
Would Kohli be frustrated for not getting there? He must. After all, this was one perfect innings that deserve right among the top knocks he has played in his career. In tough conditions, against a bowler firing with all cylinders and with a heavy cloud cover hitting through the Table Mountain, there was nothing minimalistic about the knock. Perhaps, he gave an apt description of the events, well in advance, when he took the question about the milestone on Monday, with a futuristic vision.
“Sometimes your focal point has to shift; if all the time you're going to look at yourself and judge yourself on the basis of numbers and milestones, I don't think you'll ever be content or happy with what you're doing. I take a lot of pride and happiness in the process that I'm following, and I'm at peace with how I'm playing and what I'm being able to do for the team when there is a tricky scenario, and as long as I'm doing that, and taking a lot of pride and motivation to be in those moments, I have nothing else to worry about, because the reality of the situation is that you eventually want to make impact performances for the team, and my best effort is always to do that, and I truly believe that I don't need to prove anything to anyone.”
Of course, he doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. But today’s knock would stand as validation and proof of its own. A century notwithstanding, Kohli would be really proud of the way he batted.