The fortunate ones who witnessed Virat Kohli bat on Friday against the West Indies shall agree with the fact that the unbeaten 94, if not the greatest, was one of the greatest T20 innings that he has played.
Arguments can be put forward representing the 82-not-out against Australia in the 2016 World T20 or one of the four centuries in the 2017 IPL. But none of the before-mentioned innings, though, had a reflection of his character, his evolution as a cricketer, and as a leader.
Coming into bat on a wicket which was called “weird” by Indian opener KL Rahul, Kohli seemed highly deviated from his usual self.
While Rohit Sharma’s dismissal hinted towards the fact that the wicket had slowed down in the second innings, the Indian captain’s desperate and failed attempts to middle the ball in the initial overs established the same.
At the other end, despite struggling, Rahul managed to somehow see the ropes and kept India alive in the record-breaking run chase of 208.
Kohli, though, continued to remain confined in the little bubble he had created for himself. The flair, the timing, and the ability to dissect the field were replaced by the desire to adopt a hard-hitting game and give the Windies bowlers, who had already started to get on top of him, a tit-for-tat.
But the ball kept on evading his willow’s middle adding up to the misery which was already at the boiling point due to the required rate of almost 13.
His frustration and the unnecessary verbal spats with the bowlers took the cricket fans in a ride down the lane of nostalgia where a 20-year-old Kohli was pushing himself hard and failing.
Yet, not a single soul at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium or the millions streaming the game elsewhere did ever get a feeling that he was in danger of losing his wicket. He was struggling, but the struggle was not existential rather it was to put on the numbers at a brisk rate.
It was the same a decade ago when he was fighting for his place in the playing 11 but that did not put his eventual spot in a doubt for the words had already gone up in the sky that the future of the Indian cricket was in making.
And, much like the people watching the game on Friday, people back then waited with credence on his ability, waited for “Sachin Tendulkar’s replacement” to trust his basics and not do the theatrics.
While the transformation of his career had taken three years to come, the transformation of Friday’s innings against the Windies happened rather quickly at Hyderabad.
In 2012, on a misty day in Hobart, India needed to score 320 runs inside 40 overs to stay alive in the tri-series, also featuring Australia. Taking to the crease at 86/2 in the 10th over, it took Kohli 86 balls to realise the run-scoring potential he can reach without fancying the popular T20 shots that were taking cricket by storm.
At Hyderabad, it was just a lofted drive over mid-off that got him back to where he belongs. The desire to hit the ball hard suddenly took a back seat as the game of timing took over and the middle of the willow was on song again.
What followed was not just a typical Kohli masterclass in chasing big total that the cricket world fondly associates with him, but a display of how that raw teenager has evolved over the years.
It was a display of devotion that he has towards his game which made him understand his mistakes in the middle of his innings and inspired the changes that he brought forward.
“I analysed what went wrong and played accordingly in the second half of my innings. I was trying to hold my shape and realised that I am not a slogger, so I tried to rely on my timing. Whenever I play T20 cricket, I am not someone who comes to the ground to hit the ball in the air to entertain the crowd. I focus on doing the job,” the 31-year-old said in the post-match presentation ceremony.
However, it’s not that the second half of the innings had any less of the theatrics. The unnecessary notebook gesture to Kesrick Williams came in the latter part of his knock but it did not deter him from his quest.
But then this is how the man has come into being over the ages. While the U-19 World Cup-winning captain had to be controlled and told about his directions, the current Indian captain knows the path he wants to tread and is definitely aware of how to manoeuver it on any given day.