Kohli century ends an agonising three-year wait | Crickit
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Kohli century ends an agonising three-year wait

Mar 12, 2023 09:34 PM IST

His 28th Test ton, an uncharacteristically watchful effort, was his first since November, 2019. It has given India the chance to put Australia under pressure on the final day of the Ahmedabad Test

When in full flow, Virat Kohli’s batting is a sight to behold. A complete batter, his cover drives, on-drives and backfoot play can mesmerise the audience. The Sunday crowd at the Motera also came anticipating such scintillating strokeplay.

Virat Kohli(AP)
Virat Kohli(AP)

What they got to watch instead was a stubborn, ruthless version of the India No 4. They didn’t have anything to complain though.

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Playing with single-minded focus, Kohli dug deep to produce an innings of exemplary patience and control while battling cramp to end a century drought that had lasted more than three years and three months. His magnificent 186 on Day 4 of the final Test against Australia at the Narendra Modi Stadium also titled the scales a bit in favour of the hosts.

It wasn’t trademark Kohli in terms of aesthetic appeal or sheer dominance. His eighth century against Australia – and the highest – though was one of his most significant from a personal and team point of view. In reply to Australia’s first innings 480, he helped India finish 91 runs ahead after pushing the score to 571 before being the last wicket to fall, ending a marathon 364-ball effort.

In the absence of Shreyas Iyer – he was taken for scans after lower back pain flared up again – KS Bharat (44) and Axar Patel (79) provided Kohli solid support to bat the visitors out of the game.

Getting a docile track is rare nowadays. After looking at the pitch here, Kohli must have sensed it was his best chance to get a big one. Coming into the game with scores of 12, 44, 20, 22 and 13 made on turning tracks, it was his last chance to make a mark on the series.

Kohli has gone through so much in the last three years he didn't need extra motivation. While there were no demons on the pitch, scoring was a grind in scorching heat. It was not a typically busy Kohli innings. With the game in balance, he was prepared to graft, look ugly. Kohli had scored his 27th hundred in his 141st Test innings. It took 42 innings before the 28th arrived.

Australia stand-in skipper Steve Smith dried up the runs with defensive field placements for a disciplined bowling attack. With a packed leg side field, the ploy was to entice Kohli to play inside out or go aerial, but he didn’t blink.

Kohli didn’t hit a four in the entre first session. Starting the day on 59, by lunch he had added just 29 runs off 92 balls to reach 88. The 41 needed to get to hundred were made without a boundary. It is his second slowest hundred, off 241 balls. His slowest was in Nagpur in 2012-13, off 289 balls, against England.

In fact, having hit his fifth four on Saturday evening, his next came after 162 balls. In terms of self-control and curbing his strokes, it could be compared to Sachin Tendulkar’s epic double century in Sydney in 2003 when he didn’t play the cover drive.

A couple of years ago, Kohli would have taken the risk, but he knew he couldn’t in this innings. The stakes were very high.

A lot has changed from the time he was captain and had a larger-than-life image. The aura has diminished. He has gone through torrid times in the last three years. The form started slipping. The average dropped below 50, the benchmark for a great Test batter. He was slipping from the debate on the world’s top four batters. After stepping down as T20 captain, he lost his one-day captaincy too. In search of form, he relinquished the Test captaincy as well.

Kohli is wiser for the experience and has mellowed. On reaching the hundred, there were no wild celebrations. Instead of the trademark jump and fist pump, he calmly removed the helmet, took out the chain from inside the shirt and kissed the wedding ring and accepted the applause for international century No 75. His wife, Anushka posted on social media that he had battled illness.

With the monkey off his back, it raises hopes that it will lead to a second wind like it did for Tendulkar post the 2007 World Cup. At 34, Kohli is younger and fitter.

LOWER-ORDER SUPPORT

The pressure was on India’s lower-order after it became clear Iyer won’t be able to bat. After Ravindra Jadeja holed out for 28, Bharat and Patel rose to the occasion, sharing partnerships of 84 and 162 respectively with Kohli. It is only the third time in Test cricket that each of the first six wickets have added at least 50 runs.

The batters showed far more intent in the middle session as they added 110 runs in 27 overs.

Off-spinner Nathan Lyon bowled his heart out but the Australia pacers were disappointing. Mitchel Starc was taken for runs every time he came on, ending with an economy rate of 4.40. Cameron Green was the most expensive (econ 5), going for 21 runs in one over when Bharat hit him for two sixes and a four off consecutive deliveries.

Opener Usman Khawaja suffered a knee injury while dropping Axar Patel on the boundary to concede a six. He couldn’t open but Matthew Kunhemann joined Travis Head to see off six overs until stumps. The pressure will be on Australia to negotiate the first session on the last day make the game safe.

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