Virat Kohli: A cut above in South Africa with a combative and calming influence

Virat Kohli in action during the Day 1 of the 2nd Test of South Africa vs India series
Virat Kohli in action during the Day 1 of the 2nd Test of South Africa vs India series (Image: BCCI)

Dean Elgar made a monumental 185 in the first Test. KL Rahul battled adversities on the way to a courageous 101 in the same match at Centurion. In Cape Town, Aiden Markram smashed a cavalier 106, which was the only 50-plus score of the two-day Test on a difficult pitch. In a short series cut shorter by the bowlers on sticky wickets, these were standout batting efforts.

Looking at those scores, knocks of 38, 76 and 46 appear pedestrian. They are, considering the mere volume of runs made. The centuries were class acts, crafted under trying circumstances. But, those brief innings were unmistakable for the manner they were put together. They showed Virat Kohli at his best on the last leg of a grand career.

Concerning the centuries in the India-South Africa Test series, it is tempting to say that Kohli was a cut above. That’s because he was operating from a different zone. Elgar, Rahul, and Markram were stretched. In varying degrees, they showed desperation and took chances to achieve what they did. In comparison, Kohli was cruising.

Shot selection, execution of shots, judgement of which one to play and which one not to, unhurried operation which made him look like a man from outer space, and a sense of surety in almost everything that he did — this was a merger of rare qualities. The scores were not daunting, the effect of his batting was.

Sachin Tendulkar had been written off for a short period before and after the 2007 World Cup. Headlines were saying ‘Endulkar’. He came back with a deluge of runs and plundered centuries from 2009 to 2011, including the first-ever double in men’s ODIs in 2010. With differences, Kohli has turned a similar new leaf after a lean patch, during which his Test average dipped under 50.

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At Centurion and in Cape Town, he seemed to be playing on a different pitch. The surface asked all sorts of nasty questions. Only the former captain seemed to have the answers. The knocks of 38 and 46 were exercises in perfection and impeccable command. The odd blemish notwithstanding, these were lessons in mastery against mounting odds.

Conditions for batting were extreme for a better part of the total of five days that the two Tests lasted. The ball swung considerably at times, jagged around wickedly, jumped from awkward lengths and some kept low. Kohli was unmoved. He was an apostle of assurance. Others weren’t in as much control when they made centuries.

At 35 and having given up captaincy three years ago, Kohli has taken time to get where he is. He is at peace with himself and his understanding of his own game has got better. Not just in this series, but throughout 2023, he also gave the impression that he knows everything that the bowlers are going to do. It’s a question of how he reacts to that.

That’s why he seems to be totally at ease. He gets beaten on occasions like every batter does and also pops up the odd chance of a catch. But by and large, he is undaunted by what is happening around him or off the pitch. His focus has reached a level where he does not play the bowler. He deals with each delivery as they come and in the perfect manner possible.

Given his fitness, Kohli can play for at least two more years, if not more, if he has the fire burning. Freed from captaincy, he is in a different space mentally. He is the combatant and the calming influence. The biggest constant in a batting line-up going through a phase of restructuring, this incarnation of an unshackled and charged-up Kohli promises a fun run.

Also Read: Rohit Sharma Spot on About Doctored Pitches and Double Standards


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