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Those 18 balls before Kohli’s 48th ODI ton

Last updated on 20 Oct 2023 | 01:39 AM
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Those 18 balls before Kohli’s 48th ODI ton

Like it or not, it was high time the match, the crowd, and the World Cup in general witnessed some edge-of-the-seat stuff

The result of India’s ICC Cricket World Cup clash against Bangladesh was a foregone conclusion. Probably at the start of the match itself, when Shakib Al Hasan did not walk out for the toss. Or maybe after Jasprit Bumrah and the Indian spin duo strangulated Bangladesh’s middle order. And definitely, when Virat Kohli and KL Rahul were cruising towards the target on a platform laid by Rohit Sharma’s blitzkrieg upfront. 

Chasing 257, India needed a further 169 when India Kohli walked out to bat. Two consecutive no-balls and a free hit later, Kohli was 12 off three balls. It was only the second time ever in his 285-game career that he hit a six in the first three balls he faced. Barring the rarity of a free hit, Kohli is not wired to go aerial that soon. “Even if you dreamed about a situation like that, you will go back to sleep; you won’t think it is real,” he remarked later. Any glimmer of hope that Bangladesh imagined with Rohit’s wicket evaporated within minutes.

For the next 25 overs, the contest and the atmosphere became a lukewarm affair of a waiting game for the inevitable Indian win. Meanwhile, Kohli passed 50 when India still needed 86. India needed 49 when Kohli reached 70. A hundred was on, but the discussion of it was still a murmur. There was no indication that it was on Kohli’s mind either. And even if it was, it was definitely not communicated to his partner, KL Rahul. In the form of his life at perhaps the role tailor-made for him, Rahul smashed a six and a four to Shoriful Islam in the 37th over and the duo kept rotating the strike for the next two overs or so. 

Kohli was on 74 when India needed 26. That meant he had to score every single run by himself to ensure he reached a World Cup hundred for the first time since India’s first game in the 2015 edition. “I have had a few fifties in the World Cup but haven’t converted them,” Kohli was to say when all of this was done. For now, even if the century was then on his mind, it took a few more minutes for his intentions to be public. Meanwhile, he thumped Hasan Mahmud over long on for a six and took a single to end the over. Kohli and India both needed 19.

Until that point in the game, Kohli had treated spinners with respect. Only two of his seven boundaries had been against the slow bowlers, and one of them was off a misfield. But now, Kohli slogged Nasum Ahmed to the midwicket boundary. A dot ball later, Kohli decided to finally reveal his cards. On the third ball of the over, he hit the ball to the fielder at deep cover but refused an easy single. What was a murmur until a few moments ago took the shape of a roar as the crowd erupted in unison with the knowledge that IT WAS ON!

Kohli deposited the very next ball over the long-on fence and, as expected, eased a single on the last one to retain the strike. India needed eight, and Kohli needed eight. Meanwhile, to add to the restlessness, the two giant scoreboards inside the stadium still showed Kohli on 91. It took a few seconds for everyone to realize that they had stuck. But with the zen mode on, Kohli did not need outside assistance to know how much he was batting on. 

Going short had been Hasan Mahmud’s modus operandi all evening. For a change, even Rohit fell trying to put his bumper away. To Kohli, his short ball went too short. Short enough to be called a wide. Till then, the crowd was empathetic towards Bangladesh, even cheering a good fielding effort from them. But as soon as the umpire stretched his arms, the boos echoed around the stands. The good-looking equation turned grotesquely unsymmetric. India needed seven, and Kohli needed eight.

But Kohli was not to be denied by banal arithmetic. This was the best chaser in ODI history. Someone with 20 more ODI hundreds than all the other 12 players on the field combined. He knew boundaries could be risky now. It was a lesson his partner learned the hard way three games ago when he “unwantingly” timed a ball over covers so well that instead of an intended four, it went for an unintentional six. Ending the game for India and denying Rahul a century. To not risk anything, Kohli bunted the next five balls around for two twos and a single. He continued to retain strike, with India needing two and him needing three. 

Knowingly or unknowingly, Nasum started his next over with a ball down the leg. But instead of boos, he was greeted by a loud cheer when the umpire got into the act as well and chose to not call it a wide. This was now Kohli’s script. The crowd got one copy. The groundstaff got one. Even the umpires got one. Everyone was now dancing to his tune. It was like watching a TV show with a mega star cast ambling towards the season finale when suddenly the actual writers come back from a strike to write a climax that gives the viewers something to remember the show by. Two balls later, Kohli powered a full toss for a six to reach his 48th ton and roared in delight. 

Indian cricket is milestone-driven. Four India games into the World Cup, we have been retold this fact twice. “A hundred is a hundred” quipped Rohit after the match. 

Sachin Tendulkar began the 2011 World Cup with 46 ODI tons. By the time it ended, he had reached 48 tons. He played ten more ODIs after the World Cup and ended his career with 49 tons, an all-time record for now. No one knows how many ODIs Kohli will play after the 2023 World Cup. No one knows how many ODIs will be played after the 2023 World Cup. But in a milestone-driven country like India, Kohli’s fans and Kohli himself would not want to leave anything for later. 

Whether you appreciate the mindset or not, it was high time this match, the crowd, and the World Cup in general witnessed some edge-of-the-seat stuff. They got it through a foregone conclusion of a Virat Kohli hundred in a run chase at last.

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