India vs Australia: Virat Kohli hit his second slowest Test hundred on Day 4 of the Ahmedabad Test. There was no flamboyance but the star batter’s battle against the demons in his head and a disciplined Australian attack was a delightful watch on Sunday.
By Akshay Ramesh: It was not a conventional Virat Kohli innings. It did not have his signature cover drives. He did not dominate the opposition attack like he did when he was rattling out centuries after centuries. But it was a knock symbolic of the steely resolve that has characterised Virat Kohli in the last few months. It was symbolic of the hunger that has been reignited as Kohli got his 28th Test hundred, ending a 1204-day wait for a 3-figure score in the longest format of the game.
Virat Kohli’s place in the Test side was questioned in the recent past. After a forgettable Test series in Bangladesh, he showed signs of return to his vintage self with 2 hundreds in ODIs against Sri Lanka in the New Year at home. However, Kohli did struggle for consistency against his favourite foes. Not Nathan Lyon, but rookie Australian spinners Todd Murphy and Matthew Kuhnemann were troubling the former captain in the first 3 Tests. He looked good in the middle at certain intervals in the first 3 Tests but it was not enough as the big knock was eluding him. His century drought was no more the talking point but lack of a significant contribution took center stage as it seemed the legendary player was reaching the end of his long rope in Tests.
Kohli was ‘looking good’ was the often repeated phrase in the Test series but the batting great prepared to look ugly, do the boring things without losing focus on a pitch where stroke-making was difficult. Shubman Gill had hit a classy 129, setting the bar for the rest of the Indian batters at the Narendra Modi Stadium on Day 3 of the series finale and the onus was on Kohli to steer the team forward and help them get close to Australia’s mammoth first-innings total of 480 on Day 4. The pitch for the 4th Test was not a rank-turner like the ones in Nagpur, Delhi and Indore but one had to work hard for runs even as there was very little assistance for spinners in Ahmedabad.
Kohli resumed on his overnight of 59 and all eyes were on how he would approach the Day 4 action as time was running out for India to force a positive result. However, Kohli had to reign in his instincts after India lost Ravindra Jadeja to a loose shot. Kohli looked frustrated when a well-set Jadeja threw his wicket away as early as the first hour on Sunday.
However, Kohli put his head down and played a chanceless knock that will be remembered for a very, very long time. It was not raining boundaries. There was very little flamboyance, but the battle against the disciplined Australian bowlers and the demons in his head was a delightful watch.
“What’s been amazing about this knock today is he has batted close to 2 and half hours and not got one boundary yet. He has weathered the storm and done it in his way. And it’s been beautiful to watch. It’s been a long-time coming,” his RCB teammate Dinesh Kathik said on air after Kohli got to the milestone in the 2nd session.
Kohli, who loves to put bat to ball even when it’s in the channel of uncertainty and get a feel for the ball, was willing to cut down that urge. There were no cover drives from the blade of Kohli on Sunday morning. In fact, Kohli did not hit a single boundary in the first session on Day 4. He scored just 29 runs from 92 balls but, at no point, let frustration creep in.
Kohli added 47 runs in the second session off 71 balls but the change in gears came only after he got to his hundred. It was not a selfish knock as he was cautious throughout the innings and made sure he held one end of the Indian batting together, much like Usman Khawaja did for Australia when the Indian spinners were bowling probing lines and lengths, relentlessly.
Kohli went through a period of 162 deliveries without a boundary and he was content even when he was not making the scorers work hard. Kohli hit only 5 boundaries till he got to his hundred, and added 6 more for his 186. In fact, the Ahmedabad hundred was his second-slowest in Test cricket as it came in 241 balls.
Only when India took the lead and had the license to go at a better pace, Kohli gave himself the freedom to play free-flowing strokes. A brilliant cover drive against Cameron Green came when he had crossed 140. Another flick to the leg-side boundary took him past 150. It was an innings of extreme discipline and determination.
When he got to the 3-figure mark, there was more relief than joy as he came up with a muted celebration. Kohli took out his wedding ring and gave it a kiss, letting the world know that he is a calmer and more composed man than before.
However, the hunger to be the best and dominate the best still seems to burn bright.