When Virat Kohli was on 86, he signalled to Ravi Shastri in the dressing room. It was the drinks break in the second session on the final day, and India were 321/7 after 85 overs, almost 200 ahead of Sri Lanka. A declaration was on Kohli’s mind then.
The head coach signalled back at Kohli. From the visuals it seemed he suggested 20 runs more, and Kohli wanted someone to be sent with the message. Shastri turned to his left, and sent a substitute fielder. The Indian Express learns that this was the message: Four overs and 20 runs. Bat on.
Kohli executed the plan to perfection, reaching his hundred in the fourth over, and India added 31 runs in the process. The episode also showed to his team that the captain was willing to let go of personal landmarks and try to do what was best for the team. That he was not going to fall for the hype over the number of international tons and the chase to catch up with Sachin Tendulkar.
Post the message, this is how the action played out in the middle.
Kohli didn’t get strike in the over after resumption as Bhuvneshwar Kumar couldn’t connect with his slogs, and got out off the fourth ball. And Shami retained strike with an edged single off the last delivery.
Kohli eventually got strike on the fourth ball of Suranga Lakmal’s over, and smashed it for a six over extra cover. A couple off the next delivery, and a single off the last ball had Kohli on 95 – two overs after Shastri’s message. And India had moved on to 333.
Kohli got two balls to face in the next over, took two singles, and watched Shami carve and pull two fours. Kohli on 97 and India at 344.
At the end of the over, Kohli signalled again to Shastri who signals one more over — after all just three overs had been done, and one remained, according to the plan agreed upon at drinks.
A single off the first ball took Kohli off strike till the fourth which he walloped over long-off to bring up his hundred, and he declared the innings. India set a 231-run target and Sri Lanka stumbled and collapsed but just about hung on with three wickets intact when bad light ended the Test.
In the four overs after drinks, Kohli got his hundred, and India added 31 runs. India had 30 minutes before tea to bowl at Sri Lanka, and in that time, keeping in mind how the light has faded around 4.15 pm on the other days, they would have thought they could squeeze in 30 overs. As it turned out, they got in 26.3 overs and Sri Lanka lost 7 wickets.
Later, there would be some amateurish hand-wringing in some quarters over whether India could have declared earlier, and given themselves more overs. Hindsight is always 20/20 vision, and it could also be argued that those extra runs put the game out of Sri Lanka’s reach which brought in a survival mentality, giving India the cushion to attack. Sri Lanka were forced into a defensive approach which ended up backfiring on them. At some point on the final day, Sri Lanka held the upper hand, and India were groping with the possibility of defeat, but Kohli’s defiant approach dramatically turned around the day.