It is mid-June in Mumbai; the monsoon has just started to set in. It is still a couple of weeks before India departs for the tour of England. Virat Kohli has recovered from the back injury that prevented him from playing for Surrey and the Indian skipper is desperate to fine-tune his technique to ensure he succeeds against the seaming and bouncing ball.
A couple of phone calls later, Kohli finds himself at the nets at the Western Railways Ground in South Mumbai. The pitch has been left uncovered. The rains of Mumbai means the surface is uneven and playing lot of tricks. For the next few days, Kohli practices for a couple of hours a day against throw-down specialist Raghu, who is hurling the ball into the unprepared pitch.
One area that Kohli is desperate to conquer is the point his willow meets the ball. To ensure he plays the ball as late as possible and as close to the body, there is a line marked in parallel to the crease just in front of Kohli's left leg and also another line perpendicular to the line of the fourth stump. Kohli is batting in an ‘L', his main aim to ensure that bat never gets outside both the lines. It means he is playing the ball right under his eyes. On a moist pitch, it requires enormous concentration and skill, especially against a guy that can hurl the ball into the surface at 150 clicks an hour.
A few weeks later, Kohli puts all the practice into the trade by scoring a scintillating century to overcome his horror run in England. All the hard work and practice on the uncovered Mumbai surface has paid dividends. More importantly, Kohli has learned the art of defending with soft hands, his bat now rarely getting outside that imaginary ‘L' and the ball seldom carrying to the slips even if he edges the ball. Only once in a blue moon do you now find him pushing hard at balls. It is the defensive part of the game that always goes unnoticed. But it has allowed him to take his batting to the next level.
On Saturday, Kohli fought, battled and trusted his technique on a pitch that had plenty of pace to be unbeaten on 82. The fact that Australian fast bowlers could find the edge of the Kohli's blade on eight instances and still not have the ball carry to the slips is a testimony of what Kohli has worked hard on.
The assurance in his defensive game meant that Kohli just had to cautious about his shot selection. On Saturday, when Kohli arrived at the crease, the score read 8-2, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood were steaming in, but such his Kohli's positive mindset that he had no problems easing the full swinging balls to the boundary. Four boundaries in his first nine balls had allowed him to gain that momentum.
But the greatness in Kohli also lies in the fact, that he can suddenly curtail his natural instincts and go back into his shell when the bowling is probing. For close to an hour against Pat Cummins, Kohli had to trust his defensive game. It took him 16 balls to score from Cummins. In the next 96 deliveries, Kohli only hit one boundary, as he brought up his fifty in 108 balls. This was Kohli at the peak of his powers in terms of concentration. A man so addicted to his batting and his methods.
The arrival of Ajinkya Rahane seemed to revive him further as he once gain changed gears as the ball got older. The sublime flat batted cover drive from Nathan Lyon was a treat to watch. More, importantly, with Rahane attacking, he was happy to take the back seat. When the pair brought up the 50-partnership, Rahane had contributed twice as many runs as Kohli. In the past, this might have deterred him, but now Kohli is in peace with his game.
On Sunday morning, he returned to the crease unbeaten on 82, knowing that he could setup the match for India. Once again during the initial stages, he played the ball as late as he can. The loss of Rahane in the first over meant he once again just went back into his shell. But such is the brilliance of Kohli that even in a slightly defensive mode, he wasted no time is putting the bad ball away.
Australia took the second ball and Mitchell Starc tried the big inswinger, Kohli waited, watched it on to his bat and whipped it through mid-wicket. The next ball was full again and Kohli just leaned on it, timed it to perfection and brought up his 25th Test century.
This is a man who continues to progress as a batsman by working hard and testing himself in the toughest conditions. Kohli knows that if he could develop a routine that allowed him to prosper on the unprepared damp pitches in Mumbai's monsoon, he is bound to excel in the most treacherous of conditions, as he did in Perth.
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