It was only a brief T20 innings on Friday night, but it ran the gamut from frustrating to fearsome and rivalled some of Kohli’s memorable contributions in other formats. If a T20 innings can ever be epic, this was it. It wasn’t his best, far from it, but will stay in the memory precisely because of how Kohli first twisted and cajoled his struggles into submission, then rose to conquer and dismiss them from his presence.
Initially out of sync with his timing, going hard at the ball as the asking rate rose, it was as if Kohli looked himself in the eye and said, “I refuse to accept this pathetic, struggling, scratchy, desperate version of myself. I disown you.” He needed to rise above himself, as he has so often in the past, but he also needed a quick skirmish to rile himself up. The hapless West Indies captain and his bowlers walked into a trap of their own making.
As some skillful change of pace ensured a fettered start to Kohli’s innings, the batsman seemed to be itching for a fight. Did they sledge him? Make lewd remarks? What words were exchanged? Does it matter? Even the umpires, who too didn’t escape Kohli’s ire, were merely a part of the batsman’s grand scheme to invoke his inner beast.
Kohli raved, he ranted, he muttered unmentionables to himself and his opponents. He attempted the ungainly heaves. He inside-edged, top-edged, capitalized on full tosses when he could. The first 8 balls had ensured only 3 runs. By the first 16, he was at a run a ball. At the halfway stage, the mutterings began on social media. By the time Kohli had faced 34, he was on 44. As the petulance grew, the timing threatened a grand comeback.
When KL Rahul exited and Pant came in, Holder bowled one full and wide outside off and Kohli sent it soaring into the stands for his fifty. In the 16th over, it all came to a boil. Poor Kesrick Williams was in the way. He stared at Kohli after getting hit for four, only to see the next one sailing over wide long-on to spark off Kohli’s mock ‘notebook’ celebration, of something he said happened way back in 2017.
Had Kohli remembered it and planned for more than two years? Was it a spur-of-the-moment thing? All we saw is that from balls 31 to 50, Kohli scored 55, including two sixes off Williams to close the game out with an unbeaten 94.
“He was trying to hit the ball too hard and then he understood what (being) Virat Kohli means,” Kevin Pietersen said on air. As Kohli revealed later, his mind was always ticking, always analysing. The greatest batsmen are the greatest learners, and India’s captain learnt something about himself out in the middle.
This irascible cricketing great, who can boast some of Viv Richards’ swag and a dash of Javed Miandad’s street-fighter temperament, was thinking about his sense of self. In doing so, he rediscovered his strength as a batsman.
“Don’t follow the first half of my innings. I couldn’t get going. I analysed where I’m going wrong. I thought I’m not a guy who slogs. I’m more of a timer, so I’m going to rely on my timing. The game puts you in a zone where you have no option but to go back to your strengths. You have to be aware,” he said afterwards.
There was nothing said about the competitive spirit which forms the backbone of his game. The whipping-himself-into-a-frenzy part. The demons, real or imaginary, he needs to spark the magic. The part which makes for such fascinating watching. But you can bet Kohli knows. “There were a few words out there but smiles in the end. Play it hard, but respect your opponent. I want to get the job done. I’m not someone who comes to the stadium wanting to entertain people hitting the ball in the air.”
Don’t worry, Virat, you’ve entertained us plenty. Just don’t see an anger-management therapist anytime soon.