At the press conference on the eve of the third India-New Zealand Test, Virat Kohli was asked about the reason why none of the batsmen had been able to score a hundred in the Test series. The Indian captain didn’t particularly like that query, as was visible through his blunt retort to the reporter when he told him that ‘such things happen in cricket’ and that the pitch wasn’t, in any manner, responsible for the batsmen not reaching a particular milestone.
The tone was sharp and the jibe was clearly visible through the gestures that came along with that reply. While Kohli had used the mic to answer the question that has become an unnecessary nuisance in the media, he used his bat on the first day of the Test to prove that hundreds can be scored on any given day, in any given Test series. All you really need for it is intent.
Kohli plus ‘intent’
'Intent' was something that was lacking from the Indian captain’s previous efforts in the series, that saw him accumulate just 81 runs from the 4 innings in the first two Tests. Barring the second innings at the Eden Gardens, Kohli was dismissed through some clear-cut plans that were put in place for him.
In Kanpur, Neil Wagner bowled short at him, with three men back on the leg side and hurried the Indian batsman into the pull shot, while at the Eden, Kohli jabbed at a wide delivery by Boult that was outside his off-stump and gave a half-chance to Latham at gully, which the Kiwi grabbed with both hands.
In the second innings of the 2nd Test, we saw the first composed innings by Kohli – unfettered by the plans that the enemy had laid down, unwilling to play anything other than his natural game. But, as fate would have it, a Boult delivery that kept drastically low brought about his downfall on a pitch that had sinusoidal bounce associated with it.
Here, at the Holkar Stadium, he went a step ahead. The composure was immaculate, he was not bothered by his urge to pull the short stuff – something that Ajinkya Rahane could have learned – and despite not being able to find the gaps on several occasions, the Indian captain hardly lost his cool.
The result wasn’t achieved in the best of ways – his celebration after reaching his 13th Test ton cut short by a referral for a run-out – but it was achieved nonetheless. Kohli was shuffling across his stumps, was shuffling too much some would say, but not on one occasion did he present himself as a contender for leg-before-wicket.
The patience was there to leave the balls outside off and also to duck under some well-directed bouncers. At the same time, there was no hesitation when it came to driving the half-volleys, punching the fuller ones and pulling the ones that didn’t rise enough.
The 167-run partnership with Rahane
Kohli’s innings in Indore was his first Test hundred after a gap of two months and ended the run drought that the captain had endured over the past four Test matches. Unbeaten on 103, the 27-year-old would look to capitalise upon it and convert it into one of the ‘daddy’ hundreds.
The hundred aside, his partnership with Rahane – the one that blocked the small opening that NZ had gifted themselves with once Mitchell Santner breached Cheteshwar Pujara’s defence – was the phase that took the final two sessions, and with it, the day from the visitors’ grasp.
The New Zealand fast-bowling duo of Boult and Matt Henry had created enough problems for the Indian batsmen in the last Test and were determined to do the same in the final Test as well. The partnership of 167 runs for the fourth wicket looks good on paper, but those runs were very hard to accumulate.
Rahane, who has been regarded one of the best players of short-pitched stuff in this Indian line-up looked unusually disturbed by the half-pitched deliveries dished out at him. ON two occasions, the ball hit his arm-guard and lobbed up in the air. On both occasions, it was neatly taken by the man at slip, resulting in vociferous appeals from the Kiwis.
On two other occasions, Rahane was found fending at short balls that were in line with the stumps, and induced leading edges off his gloves and edges, that, fortunately for the batsman, died down before reaching any of the close-in fielders.
However, Kohli was unperturbed by the drama that ensued at the other end. He looked more than comfortable while ducking underneath the well-directed short balls and also while leaving the ones that were not in line with the stumps.
Hence, when one ball from Henry didn’t rise as much as the bowler would have expected, and when Kohli swiveled in his crease and thrashed it through midwicket, you knew that Kohli had re-ignited that ‘intent’ that gone missing from the batsman’s temperament for the past two months or so.