Updated: December 29, 2014 8:51:53 am
Mitchell Johnson threw the ball in Virat Kohli’s direction. He perhaps wasn’t targetting the batsman, but was shying at the stumps. Kohli probably was simply in the ball’s path. He was outside the crease when Johnson decided to chuck the ball back after stopping it in his follow-through.
Kohli hit the floor. He was hit somewhere near the lower back. He didn’t wince. But he stayed down for a bit. Johnson was right there next to him. This wasn’t a repeat of the Adelaide Oval. The Australian speedster wasn’t overly concerned about his nemesis’ well-being this time. It was more an apology for having struck him inadvertently. Kohli didn’t seem convinced about Johnson’s intentions, though. You could make it by the look on his face. But he didn’t say anything. Not right then. Ajinkya Rahane ran down the wicket to check on him. Kohli simply gave him a gloved fist bump and sent him back. Johnson walked back to his mark. Kohli rotated the bat handle a few more times, and was back in stance.
He flashed at the next one. This was the probably the first ball he’d missed all day. It was out of character. It was out of sync with the mammoth partnership that he and Rahane had put up to peg the Aussies back. Rahane walked down a few yards again. No words were exchanged, though. Rahane wanted Kohli to settle down. The whole of India wanted him to settle down. Kohli looked a tad rattled. Even more so as he flicked the next ball uppishly towards Joe Burns at square-leg. The ball landed safely. You could make out Kohli was seething. He wanted to unleash a tirade at Johnson. He defended the next one carefully. The second new ball was only two overs old. Johnson was steaming in. For once, he seemed to have the wind in his sails. The final delivery of the over was a temptress. It pitched on driving length, slightly shorter, and Kohli fell for the bait. He wafted at it wildly. The ball caught the edge and flew away through the empty third-slip region. Kohli was on 84. Australia were on the defensive. Now, Kohli decided to let loose. He was into Johnson’s face before the ball had even crossed the boundary. He seemed to be saying a hundred words at once. Johnson raised an eyebrow and gave it back. The umpires intervened. Richard Kettleborough almost gave Kohli a comforting hug to calm him down.
At the far end, Johnson was being booed. He didn’t realize it at first. He flashed a thumbs-up sign towards the stands. But it was the section of the MCG housing a large communion of partisan Indian fans. Kohli didn’t seem too far from joining in the jeering.
Two cool heads then played out the next over with Ryan Harris bowling and Rahane batting. Then it was back to Kohli vs Johnson. A length delivery outside off again, and this time it caught the outside-edge of Kohli’s bat as he pushed at it with hard-hands and zero conviction. But Shane Watson grassed it at slip. He was late to react and the ball only caught the tips of the fingers of his left-hand. Kohli survived. Next over, Kohli survived again. This time it was a top-edge that ensued from a weak pull-shot. But it fell in no-man’s land, between keeper Brad Haddin and the rest. Johnson held his head in his hands and looked on ruefully. He finished his burst with the second new-ball with figures of 5-1-16-0. It could easily have included two or more wickets. But instead, he had nothing to show for it.
Big stand at the MCG
With Rahane batting imperiously at the other end, Kohli gradually regained his composure. By the time Johnson returned for his next spell, the India vice-captain had scored his third century of the tour. He and Rahane were well on their way to post the first-ever fourth-wicket double-hundred stand at the historic MCG. Johnson was welcomed to the crease with three spanking pull shots, each more rasping than the next. It was Johnson who was rattled now. Two balls later, Kohli did what he had been doing for the rest of the day. He covered the line of a full delivery and punched the ball down the ground. Kohli and Rahane ran three. Johnson had conceded over a 100 runs without a wicket.
Suddenly, India lost wickets in a heap. Rahane went followed by MS Dhoni and R Ashwin. Another collapse seemed imminent. Kohli batted on to reach 169, his highest Test score to date. Then, as if it was scripted, he fell to Johnson in the last over of the day, with Haddin pulling off an acrobatic catch behind the stumps. The MCG exploded. But not so much for Johnson’s first wicket of the Indian innings. Instead, every Indian and Australian around the MCG was on his feet, applauding and cheering Kohli as he walked off like a gladiator who’s just won another battle.
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