When former Australia skipper Steve Waugh famously spoke of his strategy based on mental disintegration of rival skippers, he probably did not have someone as fiercely competitive as Virat Kohli in mind.
Kohli is the antithesis of the skipper that Waugh had in mind when he boasted of his doctrine which aimed at ‘cutting off the head’ of rivals.
In contrast Kohli laps up all the venom and aggression directed at him and feeds off it. When under siege, a mysterious channel opens up for him and expands his persona. This in turn clears his mind, gets him focused and fires him up like nothing else.
Kohli seldom bothers about things not in his control. This came out sharply when he was asked about the pasting that Andre Russell was dishing out to his Royal Challengers Bangalore bowlers and if it had him worried. “There’s nothing you can do in those situations. There’s no point worrying. It’s not in your hands. You leave it to the bowler to keep his composure and sort it out,” he said.
But when things are in his control, like when he has a bat in hand but back to the wall, he transforms into the very epitome of a matchless run machine. His intent, defence, strokeplay, aggressive running between the wickets and focus are unbelievably on the money. They not only fall in place when under the pump but the mood quickly spreads to others and lifts the team. This is why a concept like mental disintegration does not apply to him.
Friday’s IPL match in front of a capacity Eden Gardens crowd was the acid test of this great cricketing warrior. His team was down in the dumps, having lost seven of its eight matches. Their chances of a berth in the next phase of tournament hung by the slenderest strand of thread: RCB needed to win all the remaining matches and hope that someone else goofs up along the way.
To make matters worse for RCB, Kohli lost the toss. His team, already without the services of an indisposed AB de Villiers, was asked to bat first. This was a terrible disadvantage as dew fall later in the evening would go on to quicken the pitch and make batting easy during a run chase. At the same time, bowlers would not have it easy in either gripping the ball or keeping a check on the flow of runs in the second team’s innings.
Meanwhile, Kolkata Knight Riders attacked with spin, hoping that the confounding spin of Sunil Narine, Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla would neutralise RCB’s foreign batsmen Moeen Ali, Marcus Stoinis and Heinrich Klassen.
Kohli tried to counter it by getting UP batsman Akshdeep Nath to bat at number three. But instead of going after Narine, he just consumed deliveries without really working up a momentum.
However, Kohli, as is his wont, was playing himself in ominously and this encouraged the left handed England batsman Moeen Ali to lay it thick on the bowlers. He had worked out a strategy to attack Kuldeep Yadav. The left arm wrist spinner was trying to get him to play to the long side of the field. But often Moeen Ali took a step across to negate Kuldeep's attempt to bowl wide of the off stump and brutally hit across the line towards long on and the straight field.
It was a savage take down of one of the world’s premier spin bowlers. The fact that his 66 runs came off only 28 deliveries (5x4, 6x6) as against opponent Russell’s sensational late night pyrotechnics which fetched 65 off 25 balls (2x4, 9x6) tells its own story.
Moeen Ali’s murderous bludgeoning which accounted for 66 of the 90 runs third wicket partnership in just seven overs was a grim testimony of the capability of the RCB batting line-up.
The famed batting, however, had let the side down for most of the IPL season. Kohli was not firing and the foreign batsmen were out of depth in Indian conditions.
But when all seemed lost for the team Kohli, a never-say-die cricketer showed why he is the world’s best batsman by turning up with his fifth hundred in IPL. He creamed the bowling to all parts of the ground with a brilliant repertoire of strokes. Impressively, there was hardly a muscle out of place as he held ‘the shape’ in drives, cuts and pulls even as the ball flew off the bat with monotonous regularity. The flat-batted hook he played off a Russell bouncer was literally a mission statement.
His 58-ball 100 (9x4, 4x6) with a strike-rate of 172 provided such reassuring stability that Moeen Ali and Stonis (17 n.o; 8b, 2x4, 1x6) were encouraged to go hell for leather. Ultimately, despite Russell’s glorious innings and Nitish Rana’s game attempt (85n.o, 9x4,5x6) the target of 214 was beyond KKR.
The 10-run win has not only given the team fresh life, but reminded opponents that RCB’s batting when on song is a thing to dread. Hopefully for RCB fans, the best is yet to come.