The mental skill behind Kohli’s gritty 76 in the World Cup final

Virat Kohli with the ICC T20 WC Trophy
Virat Kohli with the ICC T20 WC Trophy (PC: Debasis Sen)

“I was going through what I was going through, then I came back in the Asia Cup. I was playing well. And then I felt like, ‘Wow! I am ready to play in this World Cup.’ By the 10th over, we were 31 for 4 and I had just run Axar [Patel] out. I think I was 12 off 25 or something. And I remember Rahul bhai (Dravid) came during the break and I don’t remember what he said.

“I swear, I told him this as well, ‘I had no idea what you said, I was zoned out.’ My mind was spinning so fast, this is worse than what it was before. I have spiralled down so much now that there is no coming back from here. That was my honest feeling at the halfway mark,” Kohli said during a media interaction about how he felt midway through his iconic innings against Pakistan at the  MCG in the 2022 World Cup.

More than a year later, in the summit clash of the 2024 edition of the ICC T20 World Cup against South Africa, Kohli might not have felt the same kind of anxiety which he went through at the MCG. But the invisible opponent – pressure – would have been hanging on his head like dark clouds. He was on 46 off 43 deliveries at the completion of the 15th over. India had also lost early wickets. So, Kohli and Axar Patel had to do the repair job.

After cracking a boundary off Keshav Maharaj in the fourth over,  it was all about rotation of strike and collecting singles for Kohli. The South African bowlers, especially the pacemen, were also using that little bit of loopy bounce on view to their advantage. He had to change gears. 

Kohli picked the right moment by landing meaty blows against South Africa’s weak-link for the day, Marco Jansen, alongside Kagiso Rabada. He got out in the 19th over, but by the completion of India’s innings, his side had reached a par score on a track that was doing just enough to keep the bowlers interested. 

That is in short a summary of how Kohli played in the final. But we need to delve deeper to understand how tough it must have been for Kohli to paddle through phases in that innings, where not much seemed to be going his way. From the outside, it could feel like limited-overs cricket is now well and truly a batter’s game. However, batting is akin to being in a lonely world, where you have to battle through the inner demons.

Even if you make a small error, while playing a defensive or aggressive shot, it would result in your dismissal. The batter wouldn’t get another delivery to correct the previous mistake. All you can do is ponder about your misfortune in the dug-out. For instance, if a bowler is smashed for a four or a boundary, he or she would likely have another delivery up his sleeve to make a comeback. The same can be said about many other sports.

Probably, most batters have some idiosyncratic routines, which help them to navigate through a difficult period during in an innings. Someone like Younis Khan seemed to talk to an imaginary person in front of him in order to find a way through a difficult period in his innings. Kohli might have some other routine, but one of the keys to his greatness is that he is better than most when it comes to erasing all the gloomy-ridden thoughts in his mind and restoring it with positive beliefs. 

With the Bridgetown pitch  bathed in sunshine, Kohli showcased some of his mental skills to chisel out a path and steer India to safer waters. Quality-wise, it was far from his best innings. But it could very well be his most cherished one, as  it played a role in India winning an ICC event after 11 long years. It also served as a fitting farewell to his distinguished T20I career.