Virat Kohli: From chase master to chase monster and becoming World Champion all over again
Virat Kohli broke his 8-year-long century drought in World Cups and is making run chases look like a piece of cake.
Virat Kohli is a consummate hundred-maker in One-Day Internationals, so it must have come as a surprise even to him that he hadn’t scored a World Cup century for more than eight and a half years and 19 innings. Since conjuring 107 against Pakistan in Adelaide in February 2015, Kohli had to wait until Thursday (October 19) night to add to his tally of World Cup tons, which now stands at three.
Cliched as it might sound, the wait was well worth it. His fluent unbeaten 103 didn’t come under pressure, artificial or otherwise. The platform had already been laid by Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill, on a flat track against an earnest but hardly threatening Bangladesh attack with neither score board demands nor a soaring required rate as impediments. And yet, it was special in many ways, primarily because it was quintessential Kohli.
At his absolute peak, which was a whopping five years between 2015 and 2019, Kohli set stall as the ultimate chasemeister. Long before that, he had made his penchant for hunting down a target all too obvious, but during this five-year block, he stormed into a league of his own. No total was safe when Kohli was in the house, no run rate beyond him, no attack skilled enough or composed enough to stop him in his tracks.
Gradually, his touch started to desert him; he went 1,020 days without an international century, between November 2019 and September 2022 and the epitaphs started to be written. Until he pulverised Afghanistan at the T20 Asia Cup in the UAE 13 months back and rediscovered a second wind.
Even as the hundreds started to flow, Kohli didn’t always get the job done. He hauled the team to the doorstep of victory but fell with victory a few blows away. It wasn’t disturbing or worrisome, but this wasn’t the Kohli one had come to appreciate and admire. Maybe the fire wasn’t burning brightly?
Ha, Kohli said. Hang on, let me show the fire. Show he did at the MCA International Stadium in Pune, Bangladesh willing serfs as he led them on a merry dance.
India had numerous star performers on an evening when their talismanic all-rounder, Hardik Pandya, twisted his ankle and limped out after bowling just three balls. The core bowling unit of Jasprit Bumrah and spin-twins Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav stopped Bangladesh at 256 for eight, well short of what they needed to make a match of it. Rohit and Gill then took them to the cleaners while adding 88, reducing the outcome to a mere formality.
Yet, it was the stamp of Kohli that made the most telling impression. There are days when you feel the stars have aligned to help you on your way. Kohli must have experienced that when he was offered two gifts in the form of free-hits in his first three deliveries. The first went for four, the second disappeared for a six. Whoever wrote the Kohli script had a vivid, fertile sense of timing.
Kohli moved through the gears smoothly, no jarring clashes he ticked down from fourth to second and then upwards again to third and fourth. He saw Gill and Shreyas Iyer perish to adventurous strokes when they ought to have been more prudent – after all, why would you want to get the team into a position where Pandya might have to come out to bat? So Kohli did Kohli things, eschewing the risks, ticking the strike over, playing the percentage strokes that the bad balls demanded and exhorting KL Rahul to do the same.
Then came the grandstand finish. Kohli was 81 when India needed 19 for victory. He faced each of the next 15 deliveries with Rahul encouraging him to go for his hundred. Easy singles were turned down more than once at Rahul’s suggestion and against Kohli’s instincts but the crowd, wise to what was happening, cheered the dots with gay abandon. They wanted a Kohli hundred and an Indian win; it didn’t matter how.
Even Richard Kettleborough, umpiring in his 101st ODI, seemed keen for Kohli to reach three-figures, considering he refused to call a delivery down leg ‘wide’. With so many rooting for him, Kohli had to get there. He did so off what turned out to be the last ball of the contest, a full toss from Nasum Ahmed that sailed over mid-wicket and took him from 97 to 103, in 97 deliveries. Mission accomplished, game over. Talk about one stone and two birds.
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