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A Kohli hundred that felt like a new beginning

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Virat Kohli blah blah. Intent blah blah blah. Control blah blah. Legend blah blah blah. Words only go so far. Actually, wait… Yeah, it’s possible if you tie all the web pages and column inches, tweets, reels and various painted messages on various human bodies together, you could make a walkway that reaches Mars. The man has been the ultimate muse for 14 years – 15 this August – and 500 games.

Brash and loud in 2008. Cool and confident in 2012. Broken and unsure in 2014. Walking talking vindication, also in 2014. Then, for the longest time, perfection

Seventy-six international hundreds. The easy gag is to say it’s 2x Viv Richards or 3x VVS Laxman. But that’s basically because he has played a lot more innings. And there’s the actual rub. He became too good to ever be dropped; often he was too good to even be injured. His fitness is as crucial to his longevity as his form.

All that combined with this era, where cricket’s cup has runneth over, has given Kohli plenty of chances to influence history, considerably more than all the legends from the past. Of course, by the same token, hundreds of bowlers from every corner of the world could have also reduced him to a footnote. It was a 50-50 battle.

Kohli tipped the odds in his favour with his focus. The game gets his juices flowing. The desire to win pushes him further. And soon enough he is in the zone. Or to use a term that is common among gamers, the flow state. It denotes a period where you function at 100. The challenge heightens your senses. The information they send up to the brain is processed quicker and as a result every move you make is the right one and you keep making them over and over again.

Hobart 2012. Mohali 2014. Perth 2018. Birmingham 2021. Melbourne 2022. Kohli’s flow state has spanned a decade, minus the Covid years. And while everything feels amazing when you’re in the middle of this high, the moment you lose it, your whole life goes for a toss and it’s all you can do to try and get it back.

Kohli, for example, began “faking his intensity.” It didn’t work. So he has started paring his game back. Sacrificing the pretty cover drive that may fetch him four runs for the leave that will ensures he stays at the crease. Karthik Krishnaswamy wrote a brilliant piece in the aftermath of the first Test about how a lot of his big runs now are coming at a slower pace. This is perhaps because he has figured out how to do well whether he is switched all the way on or just half the way on; how to work within the limitations he is all of a sudden having to deal with.

The century in Port-of-Spain wasn’t quite the same as the half-century in Dominica. He middled 94% of the balls he faced and came away with a strike rate close to 60. But this wasn’t flow state Kohli. Honestly, the coolest thing he did – until the second morning in Port-of-Spain when his shots alone seemed immune to the horribly slow Queen’s Park Oval outfield – was the running between the wickets. The stump mic even caught him saying “been stealing doubles since 2012”.

And yet, these runs have offered India the platform to push for an away win. Also, unlike on the first day, when the cameraman had to prod a section of the crowd to yell and clap – that had to be the most celebrated legbye in the history of Test cricket – they brought authentic joy. The square drive that took Kohli to his century had the dressing room up on its feet and the crowd dancing in the aisles. He had been hinting at three-figures for almost the entire length of the innings even though a lot of it was hard graft, and that on its own was a triumph. This 121 – and the 76 in the previous match – probably won’t make his career highlights but they must have reinforced a truth. Even at less than 100, he is scary good. He doesn’t need the flow. He never has to chase it ever again.

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