It started to pour since 6 o’clock in the evening. About three hours later, when rain stopped, a portion of the Chinnaswamy outfield was under ankle-deep water. At 9.30pm, Virat Kohli and Murali Vijay walked out for the toss. Fifteen minutes hence, they were up and running; for a 15-overs-a-side contest. “Let the rain stop, give me 45 minutes and we will have at least 15 overs (per side),” Karnataka State Cricket Association chief curator Sriram Rangan had said. He walked the talk.
The hard-working ground staff were owed a debt of gratitude from the fans for ensuring another Kohli batting show; the most beautiful sight cricket can offer at the moment. On Wednesday, the Royal Challengers Bangalore captain scored his fourth century of the season and got past 4,000 IPL career runs, playing with seven stitches on the left-hand webbing. And when he eventually perished for 113 (50 balls, 12 fours and eight sixes) in the penultimate over, almost every Kings XI Punjab player ran up to him to congratulate.
Kohli has now taken his IPL 9 tally to 865 runs in 13 matches. His average is a staggering 86.50 and strike-rate 155.01. He has four hundreds and five half-centuries to his credit. Adjectives are falling short in describing Kohli in this form. ‘Bradman’ of limited-overs cricket might not be an exaggeration.
Playing through pain
At Eden Gardens two days ago, Kohli had spilt his left-hand webbing, attempting to catch a mis-timed cut from Andre Russell. He played through pain to score a match-winning 75 not out off 51 balls. After the game he went to a private nursing home in Kolkata to receive stitches on the laceration. With so much at stake these days, top players usually don’t put their bodies on the line. The likes of Kevin Pietersen, Steve Smith, Faf du Plessis, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, John Hastings and Marcus Stoinis returned home at the first hint of their respective injuries. Kohli refused to budge. A slow start meant Bangalore had always been playing catch-up at the back end of the tournament. The skipper, whom his team mate AB de Villiers has described as inspirational, decided to lead from the front.
In their last game at this venue, Bangalore had posted 248/3 in 20 overs after being sent in by stand-in Gujarat Lions captain Brendon McCullum. Kohli had made 109 off 55 balls in a 229-run second wicket association with de Villiers. On Wednesday, Bangalore scored 211/3 in 15 overs against Punjab. Kohli and Chris Gayle had a 147-run opening stand in 11 overs. The Jamaican looked to be back to his best during his 32-ball 73, but it was Kohli who took charge upfront, allowing his partner to get into the groove before gobbling up the opposition bowling.
Kohli’s first shot was an expansive drive, bisecting the point and cover off Sandeep Sharma. The Punjab medium pacer had conceded only one run in his first five balls. The lofted straight drive against the bowler one over later was even more authoritative. Then, there was a momentary lapse in concentration. Kohli had dabbed a Kyle Abbott delivery to point and set-off for a non-existent single. Gayle didn’t respond and Axar Patel had a couple of stumps to aim at. He missed the opportunity, and like Kolkata Knight Riders captain Gautam Gambhir in the last game, dropped the match.
Patel tried to make amends, forcing the batsman to mis-time a drive – quite an achievement, considering Kohli’s current form. Normality returned soon with the latter taking back-to-back fours off the left-arm spinner. After a few hours of heavy rain, it was raining fours and sixes at Chinnaswamy.
Here’s a break-up of how Kohli went about his task against the Punjab bowlers: Against Sandeep Sharma – 11 balls, 27 runs, strike-rate 245.45. Mohit Sharma – seven balls, 15 runs, strike-rate 214.28. Abbott – 10 balls, 18 runs, strike-rate 180.00. KC Cariappa – 14 balls, 42 runs, strike-rate 300.00. Patel – eight balls, 11 runs, strike-rate 137.50. It seemed like he, and also Gayle, had been presenting a highlights package; so dazzling that you would be forgiven to lose count of the number of the exquisite cricket shots he played.
Three fours on the bounce off Mohit in the 13th over, however, had been special even by Kohli’s standards. First ball was a low full-toss, which was dispatched to the mid-wicket boundary. The bowler responded by taking the pace of the ball, but Kohli’s rubber wrists sent it behind the short fine leg. Mohit altered his line and bowled full and wide outside the off stump. Kohli caressed it between the point and short third man. He raced to his ton – his fastest in T20s – in the next over, sending Sandeep Sharma to the mid-wicket boundary. He then hit a six and another four before returning to the dugout to a rousing ovation.
Thank goodness, rain relented. Abandonment would have seriously dented Bangalore’s prospects of reaching playoffs. They are still not there yet. But with a net run-rate of +0.93, they are now just one win away from playing knockouts. This IPL needs Kohli to climb popularity charts.
Brief scores: RCB 211/3 in 15 overs (V Kohli 113, C Gayle 73, S Sharma 1/29);Kings XI Punjab 120/9 in 14 overs (W Saha 24, Y Chahal 4/25)