Sheet anchor Kohli rises from the ashes

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Virat Kohli wears his heart on his sleeve. On December 10, he ended his 25 innings long hundred drought in the ODIs, but something was missing. It was a subdued celebration from Kohli. Maybe because that was Ishan Kishan’s day, who stole the thunder with his double century. Exactly a month later, the trademark Kohli celebration was back. A finger towards the dressing room, a jump in the air and a few adjectives from his mouth. Yes, Kohli was in his element at Guwahati while completing his own La Decima. This was the 10th Kohli has scored back-to-back centuries in his ODI career.

Kohli scored his 45th ODI hundred as India beat Sri Lanka by 67 runs in their series opener in Guwahati. Kohli hit an 87-ball 113 , his knock was studded with 12 fours and one six. By no mean, it was a dominating inning from one of India’s finest batsmen, but the “sheet anchor Kohli” was back. Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill’s 143-run opening wicket stand gave him a perfect platform to play himself in, but he kept the momentum going and the Sri Lankan also gave him a new year presents by dropping him twice. His nonchalant flick to mid-wicket against Dasun Shanaka, his ramp shot against Kasun Rajitha or the ease in which he was finding those gaps, and with him at the crease, India again looked assured.

“The one thing I learnt was desperation doesn’t get you anywhere. The game still remains very simple. It’s when we start complicating things with our own attachments, our own desires, our own attachment to who we become from people’s point of view, not who we were when we picked up the bat or the ball when we started playing. I think when that perspective goes off, you start putting yourself in a space where everything just keeps spiralling downwards,” said Kohli at the post-match presentation.

Virat Kohli Virat Kohli raises his bat to celebrate his century during the 1st ODI cricket match against Sri Lanka, at ACA Cricket Stadium, in Guwahati, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. (PTI Photo)

Kohli, who had earlier admitted that he was not able to naturally show his intensity, and he didn’t even realise that he was faking it. He touched the issue again after the match and said how detatchment has helped him to get his mojo back.

“And it’s only that detachment, in the real sense, [that helps], where you go out there playing without any fear, and you go out there playing for the right reasons, almost playing every game like it’s your last game and being happy about it, not being sad about it. These are the things that I learnt,” he said.

“I cannot hold on to things. The game is going to move on, it’s going to keep going on, many players have played in the past as well. I am not going to play forever. So what I am trying to hold on to, what I am trying to protect? So all these were the things that I realised. I am in a happy space now. I am just enjoying my game and I just want to play with enjoyment as long as I play,” he added.

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The word “intent” is also back in Kohli’s post-match interviews as he talks about his preparation.

“My preparation always stays the same, my intent always stays the same. Sometimes you don’t quite get the flow you want but today I just felt like I was hitting the ball nicely from the get-go. So I just kept backing my intent and even when the wickets fell I kind of had to hold one end and bat along with other guys,” said Kohli.

While talking about his style of batting, Kohli rated his Guwahati knock close to his template. He explained: “It was very close to the template that I play with. Understanding the conditions in the second half, I also had in mind that we would need those 25-30 extra runs and eventually, I was just happy that I was able to get that for the team, to give us a comfortable total on the board.”

He also turned philosophical and was thankful towards his “luck” which has deserted for almost three years.

“I would take those any day. Look, luck plays a big par

t and you can just bow your head down and thank God on these kinds of evenings when luck goes your way a little bit. We tend to get frustrated when luck doesn’t go our way. But these evenings are very important to remember as well,” Kohli had said during the innings break.

“I could have been out for 50-odd and ended up getting a hundred because of luck. I am pretty aware of that, so I am just grateful and thankful that I was blessed with this little bit of luck today. The important thing was to make the most of it.”

Dogged by bad form, self-doubt, criticism, and struggles with mental health, it seemed like Virat Kohli has started to fade away like any other sporting superstar. But he has fought his demons; we had already seen one of the best T20I knock from Kohli against Pakistan at the MCG in the T20 World Cup. T20 has never been his strong format but 50-over has been his territory, where he is an undisputed king over the years.

Is Kohli really back at his best? Only time will tell, but he has got his century-hitting form back, and yes, he is not faking the intensity anymore. So tighten your seatbelt, as we might be up for a “one last dance” from one of the all-time greats.


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