On Monday, at the Eden Gardens, I saw grace and I saw perfection. I saw class and I saw beauty. And it was as good as anything I have seen so far.
Sometimes, when you have seen players frequently, you tend to believe you have seen all that they have to offer. Then, suddenly, the champions will do something that generates a smile, a gasp. It happened to me often with Sachin Tendulkar. He’s walk down the steps, he’d shuffle in his typical way, adjust gear and you thought, “Right, innings number 442”. Then he would stand tall and punch through cover, the backlift barely reaching forty five degrees to the perpendicular, and it would seem the whole world, but the cricket ball he had directed elsewhere, was static and silent. I have often been part of the roar that followed. Or when VVS Laxman politely suggested to the ball that it travel towards mid-wicket, ignoring its plea that hitting against the spin wasn’t a nice thing to do. And then, accepting the suggestion and hitting the same ball past cover. You could see that a hundred times but the hundred and first was as special, as wow.
Over the last couple of years, Virat Kohli has produced so many gems, and they have been replayed so many times, that you are just tempted to mark another boundary against his name and wait for the next. In that amazing second innings in Adelaide a year and a half ago, I thought he had shown everything he possessed; including a sweep shot hitherto wrapped in a pillow cover and stored in an old suitcase. In the Asia Cup, he played an innings against Pakistan that could only have been crafted by the very best. Surely he had shown his hand there too.
Then I saw him bat, on a little screen, in Kolkata. He had put together a sequence of scores that evoked awe. He could score runs in his sleep, he could score runs if he forgot to carry his bat out. Maybe he could nod at the ball, that was the form he was in. Morne Morkel, all six foot five charged in and hit the deck back of a length, maybe a few inches further up. Kohli took a couple of strides, met the ball on its way up and pointed the bat towards extra cover. The entire bat these days, certainly with Kohli, is a sweet spot and the ball found it quite easily and used it to lift-off. In the night sky, and through the lens of an expert cameraman, the ball did as it was ordained. It landed some rows past the boundary rope.
Stylish, elegant and correct
This IPL has seen many sixes hit, lots of those breathtaking, some others brutal, but this took my breath away. It was stylish, it was elegant and it was so, so correct. Sometimes you freeze a moving picture to see perfection in the frame. I dare say, you could freeze any frame of that cover driven six.
Then, Ankit Rajpoot came on to bowl, a young man with a bit of a reputation. He had bowled well, bustling in with the kind of energy that youth seems able to draw from. He bowled what in another sport would be called a good length ball. Again Kohli advanced, again the bat came down gracefully but soon the top hand ceded importance to the bottom, the bat twirled as it made contact and the ball flew on the bounce towards the practice pitches at wide mid-on. By now, the field was out. Mid-on was manned, so was a rather straight mid-wicket. They must have had 70 metres to see the ball coming. It wasn’t enough. In all fairness they moved but only because admiring it from where they were would have looked too accepting. It crashed into the boundary, Kohli met his partner and came back to face the next ball. Just like that. Canvas painted, art-lovers in awe, brush and paint moving on. It was exquisite. It could only be played by a player at the height of his powers.
He will play it again. This and that lofted cover drive. We will think we have seen it before. And we will wonder why our eyes are big and our mouth is agape.
You could say it’s only T20, you could say the bats are clubs, you could say it is all in favour of the batsmen. And you could say, it was perfection.