Kohli ends century drought with vintage knock, rekindles the joy of batting

Virat Kohli rediscovers his joy doing what he does best, scoring a hundred, after 1019 days.

Virat Kohli celebrates after scoring a brilliant century against Afghanistan on Thursday.

Virat Kohli celebrates after scoring a brilliant century against Afghanistan on Thursday. | Photo Credit: AFP

Virat Kohli rediscovers his joy doing what he does best, scoring a hundred, after 1019 days.

Nature is healing itself. The clock's been reset again: it's one day since Virat Kohli's last international hundred. Indian cricket can finally move on. With nearly three years spent wondering when, why not and how, it feels like home, a player coming back to what he knows.

By his admission, Kohli's latest hundred, against Afghanistan in an Asia Cup Super 4 match, came in the format he "least expected for a century to come anytime soon."

For all the lingering uncertainty over if Kohli will ever be his old self again, there was an evident sense of relief when he took off the helmet and stood with his arms aloft.

Kohli scored 70 centuries across formats before last night. But he had badly chased this one. He stumbled through a tempestuous 1019 days when he occasionally got a good start only to see it fall sideways.

There was that 74 in Adelaide in 2020, the 72 in Chennai and the 44 in Southampton last year, the 79 in Cape Town in 2022.

Yet the immediate feeling of not converting a good start here would perhaps have been clouded with a kind of emptiness that would provoke more trepidation than excitement.

The knock in itself was trademark Kohli: he took on the opposition's two best bowlers, Mujeeb ur Rahman and Rashid Khan, and methodically tore them apart. When Mujeeb came on for his third over in the PowerPlay, he had gone for 10 in his first two.

He would go on to concede 15 to Kohli in the next six balls: Kohli began by driving a wrong'un past mid-off for four before sweeping one square of short fine for four more.

He capped it off with a six over long-off, which set the tone for what followed. Kohli reached his 50 off 32 and then slammed 63 off the last 21 balls he played. How's that for acceleration?

There was nothing overtly unorthodox about the 12 fours and six sixes he hit. Kohli's batting is so far steeped in orthodoxy and technical astuteness that you sometimes feel he couldn't be unorthodox even if he tried.

His boundary count began with an inside edge past short leg but by the time it was bookended with a cover drive, he had played an entire range in between - pulls, flicks, and the occasional sweep — he almost never plays it — he practised during the training sessions at the ICC Academy here.

"I just banked on good cricketing shots always. I came to every tournament or series thinking that hitting sixes is not my biggest strength. I can do it if the situation demands, but I am better at finding gaps and hitting boundaries," Kohli told India captain Rohit Sharma during an interview for BCCI.tv.

"As long as I can hit many boundaries, it would still serve the purpose of the team. I told the coaches that I would try to hit through the gaps rather than thinking of hitting sixes - something that's needed to improve the strike rate in T20 cricket. I removed that from my system in this tournament and that helped because I could return to my template," Kohli said.

By the time the match ended, it didn't matter that it was a dead rubber or that India had just recorded its second-largest T20I win.

Relief at the end of Kohli's hundred - his first in T20Is - has now been replaced by questions of whether he should be the one opening the batting with Rohit Sharma at the T20 World Cup in Australia. But that debate is for another day.

Ever since Kohli made his international debut, it was clear he was not a cricketer to be treated by ordinary standards.

He was not merely a batting genius but one who came draped in symbolic importance - a relentless quest to excel and win.

But the last three years saw that relentlessness wobble at times, bogged down, perhaps, by the weight of his own talent. That's why Thursday night was special. His brilliance was dredged from the obvious internal struggle, which made it relatable.

In fact, it's tempting to conclude that Indian cricket would hope Kohli once again makes the ridiculous so routine that he doesn't get talked about as much as he deserves; playing perfectly will hardly be news.

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