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A Century of Test Matches: Virat Kohli Looks to Rediscover His Batting Mojo in Mohali

Virat Kohi takes the field for his 100th Test when India play Sri Lanka at Mohali. As a milestone, reaching such a `century may have lost novelty (Kohli is the 12th Indian to get to this mark) in the modern game, but its importance remains intact.

To play 100 Tests showcases not just calibre but sustained excellence, not just extraordinary physical stamina and fitness, but mental toughness and deep ambition, and generally elevates a player from the ranks of the extremely good to the great. Of course, Kohli had qualified into the last-mentioned category much earlier.

Fast-tracked into international cricket after making a big impact at the under-19 level, he was quick to show that he belonged at the highest level. When he got the India cap, the team still had Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Yuvraj, Laxman, Dhoni, but Kohli did not look out of his depth.

He was overly aggressive, which upset those who saw cricket in a puritanical lens, but from very early on there was no doubt that Kohli was out of the ordinary. His batting had sparkle, his body language was strong, he loved to compete, he was combative, he had an insatiable appetite for runs, he was obsessed with winning.

He was also an eager listener and quick learner, squeezing every ounce of expertise he could from the aforementioned seniors in his own dressing room, and others he encountered, spending hours in practice to improve his batting and fielding.

Kohli simply wanted to be the best. For that he was not only willing to take lessons from any quarter, but also make personal sacrifices to achieve this ambition. The next big step in his development was how he transformed himself physically to take his performances to a different level.

The turning point in his career was the 2014-15 tour of Australia in which he smashed almost 700 runs in four Test matches. His counterattacking methods against Aussie bowlers on bouncy pitches was breathtaking.

The tour was to be dramatic for Kohli beyond just his exhilarating batting. Given the captaincy by default, with Dhoni missing a Test, then retiring suddenly during the tour, Kohli showed that far from being fazed by added responsibility he reveled in it.

In the next few years, Kohli swiftly rose several rungs up the ladder as a batsman. His prolific run getting across all formats won him wide acknowledgement as being the best in the game. He was bold and charismatic, exciting to watch and listen to, and soon became the biggest star in the sport.

Equally important was his growth into leadership. As captain, Kohli made three significant contributions which transformed Indian cricket. He made fitness standards non-negotiable, plumped for a five-man attack even if this meant increasing the risk, and shifted the thrust of the bowling to pace when playing overseas.

India’s record under Kohli overseas is the most impressive for any captain. There were setbacks to start with – notably in South Africa and England in 2018 – but soon enough, the Indian team became the most feared playing at home or away. Along the way, Kohli also became the most ardent proponent of the primacy of Test cricket which gave the five-day format a fillip globally.

Unfortunately, failure to win an ICC title became a bugbear for Kohli, and a weapon for skeptics to diminish his captaincy achievements especially after his run-making hit a downturn in the last 28-30 months.  In the last 5-6 months, a fall -out with the powers that be in the BCCI precipitated into a severe crisis that also saw Kohli lose the captaincy in all-formats, voluntarily and otherwise.

The 100-Test milestone for Kohli comes at a poignant time in his career. After a blazing 10-year run of stupendous success – only occasionally paced with failure – the last struggle for big scores in the last two years has baffled critics and fellow players, and given rise to detractors.

In the past, Kohli has overcome obstacles and problems with grim determination. Against Australia in 2011-12, he was on the verge of being dropped after failures in the first couple of Tests. A half century in the third, and a maiden century in the fourth not only salvaged, but sent his career zooming up.

In 2014, he came a cropper against England. So poor was his performance, that Kohli almost thought of quitting the game. He gathered himself in time, shrugged off the despondency, worked on his fitness and technique and smashed almost 600 runs in the next series in England in 2018.

There is little evidence that Kohli’s technique has fallen apart, or that he has completely lost rhythm so the absence of big scores is most likely because of a mind under pressure, with luck too deserting him.

The prolonged `dry’ spell since 2019 and threat emerging from younger batsmen in the ultra-competitive environment in Indian cricket, the onus is on Kohli to rediscover his mojo, stave off the challengers and give his career a second wind.

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