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Virat Kohli smiles again in Test cricket

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Last updated on 12 Mar 2023 | 06:20 PM
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Virat Kohli smiles again in Test cricket

Kohli notches up a Test century after more than 3 years in an innings reflective of both his best days in Test cricket

In the last three or so years, Virat Kohli was like a rich man who has been forcefully kept away from his wealth, and is made to earn every single penny again. In a career where more than 70 international centuries came like rainfall, the last three years was a drought.

In Delhi, it seemed like Kohli was back in form. If form implies being decisive in his backward and forward foot movements against spin. But it was here in Ahmedabad, where he finally ended that drought. He earned back his wealth. He had to work hard for more than seven hours to feel like the old Kohli, who used to score hundreds and double hundreds, for fun on slow Indian tracks.

And by doing that, he not only took us back in time but also showed a picture of who he is as a batter now. 

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Back then, and even today, it was his discipline that shone through. In an innings that lasted 364 balls, he was in control of his defense and occasional offense more than 90% of the time. This number is reflective of the moribund pitch, but at the same time also reveals that Kohli was in absolute control of his batting in Ahmedabad. 

When he arrived to bat, his wide and open stance (something which he has used in this series) offered clear indications to the bowlers that he is setting up to play everything from the off spinner with the turn into the leg side. Remarkably, he stuck by it for the entire duration of his innings. Not once did he deliberately push and prod against the turn of any delivery. 

He kept playing them in the same manner, which didn’t give him a lot of runs, but imparted control to his shots. His wagon wheel against all the three spinners seems to suggest the same as majority of his runs and shots came on the leg side. 

Nathan Lyon, Todd Murphy and even Matthew Kuhnemann (who wasn’t spinning the ball away from him much) offered few driving opportunities throughout the cover and extra cover region, but Kohli had decided how the tempo. The way he continued to use his wrists to maneuver the ball along with the turn to the leg side, was reminiscent of his double centuries that made Kohli, Kohli!

The batting process of Kohli in this entire innings (barring the few deliveries he faced before Tea on Day 3) was simple. However it was his discipline that shone the brightest on a day when scoring wasn’t easy. 

Seeing that Kohli was playing everything on one side of the ground against the spinners, there were many times in the game when Steve Smith arranged a leg side heavy field, with seven fielders on the leg side and only two on the off. He didn’t have any close in fielders for the bat pad catch, as his sole focus remained on choking Kohli’s run scoring and getting him desperate enough to play a loose shot.

Runs did reduce to an absolute trickle during these phases. In fact, during the first session today, he played 92 balls and scored only 29 runs without scoring a single boundary. But he didn’t get out playing a rash shot. In the end, that was the only thing that mattered as he made merry with his favorite flick shot, which he played quite often and with a lot of control. 

His concentration was so intense throughout this phase, that when he saw Jadeja getting out trying to play a big shot, he shook his head in disbelief. Here he was being a monk, and there was someone trying to ride a Ferrari!

By the time he finished his innings, in terms of balls faced, it was his third longest innings. If one goes back in time, his power of concentration, unflinching discipline, and the understated simplicity of his batting technique were the virtues that became known as the hallmark of Kohli the Test batter. It was only fitting that the Kohli century which came after more than three years, carried all these facets of his batting. 

This brings one to question - why wasn't he able to score in the last three or so years in test cricket? Why is he averaging only 29 in this period? Was he unable to concentrate and ended up losing his discipline? The answers aren’t easy. 

Also read: With luck, Virat Kohli sets journey on path to tranquility

His false shot and control percentages during this period are 12.3 and 87.7% respectively. In the same period, the global average FS% for the batters batting in the top 5 of the top 8 Test teams is 14.3. Even in terms of his batting control %, his numbers (87.7) are better than the mean control % of every single country’s top 5 batters except Pakistan.

These numbers show that he hasn’t actually batted bad enough for his average to be below 30. But it might have been the case where the first mistake he made was big or fatal enough for him to lose his wicket. The other possibility can be that he was just plain unlucky. The reality may be somewhere between the two situations and as fans generally do, readers can choose the explanation that fits their sensibilities. 

However, it may not be improbable that even Kohli the batter is now slowing down with age. He is a front foot dominant player, which requires very strong hand-eye coordination and foot movement. In the last few years, many times he has been out chasing wide deliveries against pacers, or getting LBW or bowled trying to push the ball away against the turn on the backfoot against spinners. 

His hands might well be slowing down. 

His reflexes might still fail him. 

But just like today, as long as he can concentrate like a monk, and be disciplined like a soldier, he will continue scoring runs. 

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When Kohli completed his century today, there was no jumping, running or screaming out all the air from his lungs. It was just a smile, merely enough, acknowledging the crowd and his teammates who were going ballistic outside the boundary line. He then calmly removed his gloves, took out the necklace that had his wedding ring, and just kissed it.

That was all in the celebration of a hundred that was awaited for more than three years. It all might have felt anticlimactic, but that smile from Kohli conveyed relief mixed with satisfaction. People watching realized that he has matured with age. His failures have humbled him, and it took him all his discipline and concentration to bat like the way he batted. That smile was also an acceptance of this change, as it felt like he is finally at peace with his fallings. This was Kohli accepting that even Kohli isn’t above human frailties. 

This is a batter who has dominated like a bull in a bull ring. This is a batter who is aging, but can still play such knocks replete with old school brilliance characteristic of the longest format of the game. This is a batter called Virat Kohli who keeps chucking his own obituaries in the bin, just because he is Virat Kohli. 

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