- Published: Monday, 15 January 2018 12:57
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Instead, just replay to the time of the game when Kohli was on 1, India 29/2. He was facing Morne Morkel, whose last over had seen the departure of KL Rahul and Cheteshwar Pujara.
The two have a past. At Newlands, little more than a week back, Morkel had dismissed the Indian captain with a ball on the fifth stump that should have been left alone. At Centurion, his first ball to Kohli was on the same line. Lesser batsmen would have got conscious. There was too much riding on this inning, a low score could trigger national outrage. Another failure would start a discussion on his overseas record and questions about the choices he makes as a leader. But Kohli isn’t the kind to divorce his instincts or even curb them. It’s easier to leave, but then Kohli doesn’t leave. It wasn’t an authoritative stroke, just a half-stride poke. Maybe, it was the purpose behind the push that carried the ball beyond the cover fence. That half-stride was Kohli’s bold leap of faith. When cornered, he wasn’t changing himself. He wasn’t taking a step back, nor was he realigning or getting influenced by advice. He was sticking to his guns and being on the frontlines while leading the troops. Call it bull-headedness or the single-minded belief that refuses to teeter regardless of the conditions, results or criticism; Kohli showed he had character.
His unbeaten 85 took India to 183/5, still trailing by 152 runs. The first session saw them take 4 wickets and in the following two they lost 5. Take a few, give a few, the game was still even. The series was alive and the fight in the Indian dressing room hadn’t died down. At stumps, it was late and dusk by the time South Africa bowled their 61 overs, Kohli walked out of the ground with a smile. One possible reason could be the man on his right — Hardik Pandya, another Indian not averse to risk-taking and having a mind of his own.
The Test was on sim, bubbling of all possibilities. The jury is still out on whether India can be competitive abroad but Kohli today proved that he doesn’t let the fear of failure come in way of his drive to succeed.
The all-important poke to the cover boundary would be followed by a classic back to the bowler straight drive that beat mid-on. The sound of the ball hitting the ball was sweeter and Kohli, celebrating the small initial victory, would run all the way to the non-striker.
Note, this unwanted run after hitting a sure-shot boundary, is the first sign that the Indian skipper is in a zone. Once in rhythm, Kohli leans into strokes, has his eyes on top of the ball and even as he is completing his exaggerated follow through he is charging out of the crease.
Despite the fall of wickets from the other end and the varied challenges that the South African bowling threw at him, Kohli would remain aggressive. He kept the scoreboard ticking, not letting it rule the pace of his innings or his shot-selection. Against an attack with wide variety, this wasn’t easy.
The world knows that World No.1 Test bowler Kagiso Rabada can tail the ball in really late but Kohli would still drive him through covers. Morkel could bounce the ball even on sand but Kohli would still drive him across the line, not worried about the possible leading edge. The dangerous left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj has a mean armer but that didn’t stop Kohli from punishing him when he bowled short.
In between those boundaries there were always singles to be taken to rotate the strike, not quite a walk in the park when the others on the green include the very accurate Vernon Philander and a promising debutant in Lungi Ngidi who can make the ball climb from short of length.
After the match, Ishant Sharma had a confession to make when he was talking about the tall and strong local boy. “I think he is hitting the length very hard and that’s the difference between Indian and South African bowlers. They are tall and they are strong,” he said.
Several times during the innings, it seemed Kohli was taking gambles. He was getting it right but was this a pragmatic approach of Test cricket? Over the years, the risk-taking cricketers are seen as those that can jeopardise chances of their teams.
That would have been a naïve analysis of the masterclass that the Indian captain gave at Centurion. It would also mean that the propagator of that theory hasn’t seen a Kohli net session.
For the past two days, the day’s hero has spent long hours at training. He faced a relentless stream of short balls from coaches and team mates. He has been hit in the ribs, on the chest and helmet. Despite the blows, he has tried to punch back at the rising balls, even tried driving them through point or pull them.
After every short session, he would have a chat with coach Ravi Shastri and the two would get involved in an animated discussion. Shastri would play a shadow pull to a short ball and Kohli would nod his head. He would again head to the nets, face another barrage of short balls and now Shastri would nod.
It’s these long hours of playing instinctive cricket that gives him the muscle memory to play the ball, run towards the other end and keep the scorers busy. Be it his gym sessions or the nets, Kohli outlasts most as he sweats to firm his beliefs.
It’s easier to leave, but then Kohli doesn’t leave.
(Source: The Indian Express)