Unshackled Kohli rekindles the excitement in his batting.
The Return of the King
1021 days. That is how much time Virat Kohli took to register his 71st international ton. The move to send Kohli to open the innings worked like a charm as the champion batter smashed 122 off 61 balls to end the century drought. It had a ‘they’re dancing in the stands in Sharjah’ vibe to it. Except, there weren’t as many as one would have liked in Dubai. Yet, when Kohli belted Fareed Ahmad over deep midwicket to notch up his hundred, the monkey that had likely grown into a humongous dinosaur was off his back.
All those who kept track of the days between No. 70 and this one were suddenly out of job . At 1020 days, the count came to an end. During that time, a full-fledged pandemic intervened, leading Kohli and many others down dark lanes of lockdowns, quarantines, isolations, and bio-bubbles.
When the moment arrived in the 19th over of India’s innings, Kohli was as expressive and free-spirited as you'd recently seen him. He cautiously unfastened his helmet and smiled broadly at his teammates as they applauded. He appeared to be implying that this was the format in which he was least likely to break the impasse with a definite expression of scepticism on his face.
Rishabh Pant smiled and remained motionless throughout, letting Kohli enjoy the moment before hugging his former captain. Kohli didn’t stop there. He pulled his gloves off and glanced up at the sky before reaching out to kiss his ring, which has his wife's initials engraved on it. By this time, the shutterbugs who had frantically positioned themselves next to one another by the boundary rope at suitable angles were clicking away to capture that "perfect" moment.
Before the moment was over, Kohli smiled broadly as he searched the stadium for areas with the most spectators before raising his bat. This was a moment of pure, unadulterated joy despite all the intensity he may exhibit on the field, including his heart-pounding jubilation and yelps, furious growls, and send-offs.
Once Kohli had reassembled, it was business as usual. There was no dropping of guard or terrible slogs that suggested he was done. He intended to continue. He trusted the good balls on merit early in his innings and even defended or nudged them about till he got his eye in. Now, he was in that "batting zone" that players sometimes refer to as being so present that instincts and muscle memory rule their performance. It appeared as though Kohli had travelled back in time to his 2016 vintage.
This was fearless, unhurried, relentless, and pressure-free batting at its best. He rapidly moved into positions to sweep bowlers off their lengths and uncorked his wrists to scythe wide yorkers behind point. Although he hardly usually plays this shot, he seems to have pushed himself in this situation by pushing himself to practise shots. When he wasn't kneeling to sweep, he was also slicing wide deliveries behind square and using his powerful bottom hand to deck low full throws far over the extra-cover fence.
Kohli was having a ball, smashing bowlers to all parts of the ground. He was making a mockery of the Afghanistan bowlers who up till the other night were dominating the competition. He was backing away slightly, as if inviting the bowlers to follow him. If not, he would move his left foot and play the most stunning cover drive.
The gum-chewing aggression that is characteristic of Kohli's swagger returned as his innings progressed. Kohli wasn't only seeing the ball and hitting it; he was also relishing the pure sensation of striking the sweet spot and watching the balls sail off in all directions. For once, fewer people were focusing on the scores, runs, or remaining overs. The little group of people applauding for a gorgeous hundred had worn them out. Nothing else mattered at that precise time. Not the result for India, and definitely not their early elimination from the Asia T20.
His inning was extraordinary. It was a demonstration of how intensely he had turned up his batting. He was stepping out to deliveries and hitting them to different areas as if he had complete freedom to bat where he pleased and as though he was just paying attention to the crowd's chanting.
When you thought you had seen everything, he played one of the most impressive no-look sixes you would ever witness. He moved into position as soon as Fazalhaq Farooqi released the ball, completely anticipating what was going to happen and sent the ball flying past deep square. You could tell how much Pant loved it by the glove punch that came next.
This was Kohli having fun. It was Kohli acting free of expectations. He came off the field with his bat high, his gloves raised, and a beautiful namaste after giving a victory sign and a gleaming smile you couldn't wipe off his face.
His batting technique has regained its pleasure factor. All throughout the tournament, he had threatened, and on Thursday, all the good vibes that had been bubbling up to the top suddenly broke out like confetti on a great stage. Welcome back, King, flashed a message on the enormous screen.
The King has indeed returned.
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