Virat Kohli, a batsman on another level and playing his own private game


Posted

December 16, 2018 06:04:28

A couple of weeks ago, Queensland opener Matthew Renshaw went back to Brisbane grade cricket on a weekend off and promptly scored 345 in a day.

As the afternoon lengthened and Renshaw moved swiftly from double to triple century, he barely looked like he was trying. Nine fielders were stationed on the fence, and Renshaw routinely dissected them with little regard as to where the bowler was actually putting the ball.

Anybody who watched even five minutes of that innings would quickly have recognised that Renshaw was much, much too good for the Brisbane grade scene.

You get much the same feeling about Virat Kohli and Test cricket.

The way he carries himself, the ease of his stroke-making, the sound his bat makes when it strikes the ball — all of it is simply on another level. The level of a batsman playing in his own personal game.

Kohli came to the crease in the early afternoon of day two with his side in peril, the ball swinging and the pitch doing more than enough to have the Indians tetchy. His side’s two openers had both been castled by full, swinging balls from now-rampaging quicks.

From his second delivery faced, Kohli leant forward into a fuller Josh Hazlewood delivery and eased the most elegant on-drive past the bowler and into the advertising boards behind him.

A few overs later, he struck three boundaries from one Hazlewood over, spraying the hulking quick in front of square on both sides of the wicket. In an instant, and in a fashion unmatched by anyone else this Test, Kohli was in, and he was on.

King Kohli was expected to have this series all to his own, free to bend it to his will with Steve Smith and David Warner struck out. His maiden appearance in Adelaide was over before it began, snuffed out by a soaring Usman Khawaja, and his second ended just as it was starting to heat up late on the third day.

But even in those relative failures, there have been warning signs. A recent technical alteration has removed one final bat-tap from his pre-delivery stance, meaning Kohli now stands perfectly still, bat cocked, almost as if meditating as the bowler runs in to bowl. In its own way, that must be one hell of an intimidating sight for a bowler.

Where the Australians targeted a full length to most of the Indian batsmen — a trick India itself mostly missed with the ball — they soon discovered that was unsustainable for Kohli, who drove with an almost passive aggression, thumping the ball down the ground without really looking like he was putting anything behind it.

Such was Kohli’s mastery, he almost became a peripheral figure in the innings for long stretches. Cheteshwar Pujara put the skids on the momentum of the match, to the detriment of his own side more than his opponent’s, and his battles with Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc became the story while Kohli did as Kohli does.

Ajinkya Rahane’s arrival served to release the pressure valve, with a few wholehearted waves of the bat hurrying the score along. When Kohli brought up his half-century with a fine uppercut over the cordon for four, it came only a few balls after Rahane had played the same shot for six.

But that’s what the very best players can do; they play their own game, separate from the Test match unfolding around them. Opposition captains nearly forget they are there completely and concentrate their attention on the mortal at the other end.

Which isn’t to say Kohli is impossible to get out. His tendency to nibble at balls about two stump-widths outside the off means there is always the possibility, however slim, of him returning to the match at hand.

It’s that slight area of weakness that will once again be probed this morning, Australia believing it is only a wicket or two from blowing this match wide open — if that wicket was to be Kohli’s, ideally before he reaches a century, the complexion could change rapidly.

Australia is still ahead in this Test match, but Kohli isn’t playing that game right now. He’s doing his own thing, conquering his own challenges, setting his own records.

And the thing is, when Kohli wins his personal game, his team tends to do pretty well too.

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