NEW DELHI, Feb. 11: Indian Cricketor Virat Kohli's first proper mishit - foot not to the pitch, head slightly out of position, ball splayed in the air - during his record-setting 204 against Bangladesh in Hyderabad came off the delivery that took him from 199 to 203, the boundary that also made him the first batsman in the history of Test cricket to score four double-centuries in four successive series. It was his 239th ball faced, with India's total taken to 493/4 at the time.
Chew on that for a second, in case you missed the proceedings from the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium on Friday. A batsman mistimes his first shot in the air after facing 239 deliveries, by which time he has 196 runs to his name.
But then is no ordinary batsman we are speaking of. This is a man at the height of his powers, so in control of his batting and body that it appears, most strikingly when he swats bowlers with controlled poise, that he is from another planet. We are witnessing a genius at work, favourable batting tracks be damned.
Right from his first delivery faced - literally, for it was cut away for four - Kohli was at ease, perhaps like never before in a Test. I suppose that can happen when you're in a rich vein of form like this, with scores of 211, 167, 81, 62 and 235 among your last six Tests, of which you've not lost a single one.
On the second morning, Taskin Ahmed's first spell of five overs went for 38 runs. His first two balls were slashed to the left and right of point for fours, then came an on-the-rise push for two, followed by a twirl of the wrists that gave Kohli four more, this time between the stumps and mid-on. In the next over, Taskin was pulled and steered for boundaries and in his last before he was yanked out of the attack, Kohli produced a deft late dab between two fielders in the deep for another four. Rarely has a fast bowler been pushed off his lines with such controlled batting.
That brief period saw Kohli move from 112 to 150, and there on it was a foregone conclusion that 200 was on the cards. If there were any doubters left, that is.
He had a few rough moments in a brief period - it could not have been more than ten minutes - when he looked a little undone by the turning ball, but otherwise Kohli was immovable. When he eventually fell, ruled lbw against left-arm spinner Taijul Islam, Kohli walked off without reviewing, like he was suddenly done with batting.
During the course of this 204, Kohli went past Don Bradman and Rahul Dravid as the first cricketer to score four double-centuries in four straight series, and past Virender Sehwag as the scorer of the most runs in a Test season. In nine Tests at home in 2004-05, Sehwag scored heavily against Australia, South Africa and Pakistan to make it a landmark season. Kohli has gone past him without breaking a sweat, and there are four Tests ahead against Australia.
In the pantheon of cricketing greats, it is the ones who are most consistent that we remember most. Kohli is currently the epitome of consistency, while breaking convention with his ability to sprint singles and doubles even after crossing 200. He is a freak. How can he possibly be reeling off scores like this with such frequency, and apparent ease?
I cannot by any stretch claim to know the man, but on the two occasions I have had the opportunity to speak with him up close and in isolation for two different magazine cover stories, the clarity of Kohli's words stood out while offering an insight into what drives him. These two instances were in 2010 and 2011, much before he became a fitness freak (I'm talking of the time he munched on a combo meal from KFC, minus the soft drink, while we chatted). The first was when he was just finding recognition in the ODI team with two hundreds and the second weeks after India won the World Cup. The common question posed to him on both occasions was about the inevitable entry into Test cricket.
Both times, Kohli's reply was about patience and a willingness to bide his time before the opportunity to "fulfill the dream". He said he wanted to improve his mental and technical abilities by playing more ODIs and four-day domestic cricket, so that he was "more mature" before the "golden" Test call came.
In particular, his words from our first meeting carried resonance. "I should be a lot more prepared before I wear the white clothes. Once you go out there and find out that you lack some technical or mental aspect, it would be an opportunity wasted. It would be better to become more mature before you get that Test opportunity," he had said then.
Kohli's trials and tribulations and hard work and success since then have been well-documented. The upwards graph in ODIs, the brilliance of his T20 batting over the past 12 months, his horror tour of England followed by a landmark Test series in Australia, the captaincy and subsequent record streak under him in Tests, during which time he has scored four Test double-centuries. Through it all, that focus on succeeding in Test cricket emanates loudest, as does his maturity as a Test batsman in this period.
The human live-wire in front of us on television is taking batting to a new level, and we're fortunate to be riding shotgun. For that, we have his maturity to thank.(TOI)
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