Shashwat Kumar was present in Mumbai to witness Virat Kohli roar back to form against Gujarat Titans – an innings that didn’t just thrill Royal Challengers Bangalore’s supporters but brought a smile to almost every Indian cricket fan’s face.
Prior to Thursday, Kohli had endured a wretched IPL. He hadn’t been scoring enough runs and when he was scoring them, they weren’t coming at the requisite tempo. His knock against Gujarat Titans at the Brabourne Stadium on April 30 was a perfect example, wherein his innings possibly caused Royal Challengers Bangalore more harm than good.
Against the same team, Kohli had a point to prove. To add to it, the Bangalore were on the brink of elimination. They had the same points tally as Delhi Capitals but a highly inferior Net Run Rate, which meant that nothing but a convincing victory would suffice. For the moment, though, that doesn’t matter. For those asking why, it’s probably because Kohli’s impactful innings is worth so much more than an IPL playoff qualification.
Over the past couple of seasons, there have been concerns around Kohli’s strike-rate in the middle overs. Before the match against Gujarat Titans, the right-handed batter had scored 119 runs off 103 balls at a strike rate of 115.5 in that phase. On Thursday, those numbers didn’t change drastically. Kohli only scored 33 runs off 28 balls at a strike rate a shade over 117. What was refreshing, though, was the way he wanted to impose himself, especially against spin.
Against Rashid Khan, Kohli signalled his intentions early. Rashid was introduced into the attack in the fifth over itself and the former India captain welcomed him with a glorious lofted straight drive. A few overs later, he hit Rashid for a six with a graceful but equally forceful flick of the wrists. This, by the way, was the first six Kohli hit off Rashid in T20 cricket. And in the 17th over, he asserted his dominance by dancing down the track and creaming a maximum over long off.
It began much before the middle overs. As soon as Mohammed Shami rattled in with the new ball in hand, Kohli seemed ready. There were a couple of nervy wafts and near misses. But when Shami pitched the ball on a length on off stump, Kohli didn’t seem a batter who was short on runs. He planted his front foot and lifted it over the bowler’s head with the sort of nonchalance that had become synonymous with him during his prime.
With great players, it often takes one over, one lucky escape, one stroke, or in this case, one moment of magic. Kohli admitted that too, saying later that that particular shot against Shami made him feel good and told him that he is batting as well as he aspires to. It wasn’t immediately obvious. After all, this was a season where he was averaging below 20 before the Gujarat clash. Over the course of the next couple of hours, he almost hammered that point home, proclaiming to everyone that he was back to where he wanted himself to be.
In a few months’ time, India will travel to Australia hoping to bury the demons of the 2021 T20 World Cup. Kohli will not be leading the side this time, although he will have a crucial role to play. There have been murmurs that he might not be best suited to how India want to play. But if he can recreate his late 2010s avatar, that will become a moot conversation very soon.
During this particular rough patch, there have been instances when Kohli has looked like getting back to his best. Those have unfortunately been false dawns. This one, though, feels a little different. Not because Kohli was celebrating literally every run he or his partner was scoring. Not because he led Royal Challengers Bangalore to a victory they dearly needed. But because this was a brazen portrayal of how he still remains capable of single-handedly deciding games of cricket.
Oh, and there was also the usual showmanship that he has become renowned for. The fist-pumps, the breath-taking strokes, the almost brash assertion that he is going to dominate no matter what. The drive, which many have felt might have been refreshed had Kohli taken a break, didn’t appear dimmed. He has openly spoken about how that remains paramount to his game and how the day he will walk away from the game will also be the day that drive no longer exists. And now, he has impactful runs to back up the narrative that even if he was down, but was never out.
When speaking about great sportspeople, that is what usually matters. There is a reason why they have scaled the pinnacle of cricket. Had they been fazed by criticism, they wouldn’t have gotten where they are. Kohli, too, has acknowledged that he will never forget this phase – a phase where almost every quality of his was cast under the scanner. He even drew parallels with a terrible Test summer against England in England in 2014.
Back then, he knew how to turn things around. And if the game against Gujarat Titans is any evidence, it seems he hasn’t forgotten that trick.