Kohli stands tall

When Virat Kohli last came to the Adelaide Oval, he was a confident, even defiant, fellow with a growing reputation in limited overs cricket.

But Test cricket, it seemed, had too many nuances for this outwardly brash but so obviously gifted young man. He had been given a full series in the West Indies in 2011 and had been dropped.

He got two more matches in Australia and that is really how far promise goes on its own. On a knife's edge, he got another game.

Perth, in January 2012, was made for Australia to annihilate India's ageing stars. They did. But a young man at No. 6, pushed to the wall, battled through.

He made 44 and with the game gone, came out to bat again on the second day. That statement hides a story in itself. Batted again on the second day!

That is how dire India were. At the other end, Rahul Dravid was two innings away from the end of a stellar career. He remembers liking what he saw. Young Kohli scrapped and made 75.

It was like seeing young shoots emerge after a fire has ravaged the forest.

And so he came to Adelaide, for the first time sure of his place. He still only averaged 27. India were 87-4 in reply to 604, the series alive only because one needed a formal end.

He dragged India to 272 and made his first century. His team, and the opposition, also liked what they saw. He was now a Test player. He returned to Adelaide this December.

Now, he was a major international star, was being compared as an all-situations, all-format player to A.B. de Villiers and he was, even if only for a Test, the captain of India. The transformation had taken a mere three years.

And yet he was on tenterhooks. England, a series he missed in 2011, was a meltdown beyond compare. If he had an enemy, he wouldn't have wished that upon him.

He had made six Test hundreds, almost got one in each innings in a man of the match performance in Johannesburg, got another in Wellington; but in England, his bat was a collection of edges. 134 in 10 innings! Was he really an all-situations, all-format player?

The great players in sport stand apart because of how they approach adversity. With normal players, even good players, self-belief slips away when the runs dry up and doubts encircle you.

They are visible to the opposition. The great players never lose that belief and when Kohli walked out at Adelaide, not yet a great Test player, he seemed to carry that belief with him.

In good batting conditions he carved out a century but watched, as we all have for years, the game eluding him. Nobody had made 364 to win in Adelaide and it was already 57-2.

The ball was spinning, darting, jumping and saving a game was akin to trying to survive by walking into a hail of bullets.

Over the next 41/2 hours, armed with that self-belief and the confidence that new India's youths seem to carry in their backpacks, he waded into the match.

In a while the ball had stopped fizzing, it kept landing in the rough but seemed to come up on the bat's command rather than that of the fingers that had propelled it.

If there is indeed a "zone" in sport, Kohli was in it. The army has a tradition of officers leading from the front. Kohli would have made a good officer at Adelaide.

We wondered, in the commentary box, whether the track had suddenly gone benign or whether Kohli, and in all fairness Murali Vijay, were merely creating an illusion of safety. Only the very best can do that.

It was indeed an illusion but, as wickets started to fall around him, Kohli took his game up another notch. Where everyone was eyeing safety, he was looking at winning.

The innings ended short, and hindsight took over the analysis of it, but while he was at it, he was taking our breath away. It was sport at its most brilliant. It was a hundred for the ages.

And yet, amid the battle raging around him, I thought I detected a calm mind. I know he was in the middle of some verbal jousting, and was able to laugh at himself, but the Virat Kohli I saw in Adelaide projected assurance and calmness.

He spoke to us on television after the game and that was the first thing I noticed again. Assurance and calmness. It is a very good sign.

It might have come from growing as a person or it might have come from being more settled in life. It is not to be mocked at or lightly uttered. Someone in the family can provide that, or maybe a friend.

Ricky Ponting wrote this week of how marriage made him a better person and, as a consequence, a better cricketer. He thinks it happened to Michael Clarke and David Warner as well. Maybe it has happened to Kohli.

I don't know what it is but if it can get Virat Kohli to continue batting like he did in Adelaide, may it stay that way.


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