Australia v India, 4th Test, Adelaide, 3rd day January 26, 2012

Kohli shows he belongs in Tests

A breakthrough innings that was played against a similar backdrop to VVS Laxman's Sydney symphony in 1999

Twelve years ago, on a similarly gloomy tour of Australia, a 25-year-old Indian found acceptance in Test cricket, and a love affair with Australia. He had played 16 Tests in more than four years before that, not in his usual position, and with the axe hanging forever over his head. In the final Test of that series, in Sydney, the man unleashed a whole array of drives and flicks, and scored 167 off 198 balls out of a total of 261, and in a defeat by an innings and 141 runs.

The man found acceptance the hard way. He scored a match-winning second-innings fifty in his first Test, batting at No. 6, but would be forced to open the innings soon, would play one Test here, one there, and would be dropped often. That man, VVS Laxman, now at the fag end of a legendary career full of match-turning innings that defied all logic, should most empathise with Virat Kohli's reaction at finally getting to a Test hundred, the only Indian to do so in this Test series.

Kohli has not had an initiation as tough as Laxman's, but we have been quick to write him off as a Test player. He has had other avenues in cricket that made him a superstar in his own right even before he started playing Test cricket. He had won a World Cup before his Test debut, had scored eight ODI centuries, and was the face of an IPL team owned by a multi-millionaire.

All that took us away from the struggles and desperation of the 23-year-old. Test cricket was neither his livelihood nor the end of his world, we thought. He played three Tests in the West Indies, and was dropped. At home, he scored twin fifties against the same opposition, and was brought to Australia as the No. 6. One failure, and the natural reaction was to ask for his head, and dismiss him as just a one-day specialist.

In perhaps the only sensible captaincy-slash-selection move on this tour, India stuck with Kohli. Then he scored 44 in the first innings at the WACA, the top score in yet another abysmal innings, and poured his heart out in a press conference. Suppressing a lump he said he couldn't figure out why people were after him.

Even today Kohli said the pressure had got to him. "After Sydney it was very bad," he said. "I was not in a good mental space after Sydney. And no one did anything. I was just putting myself under pressure. People are going to write things if you don't do well. If you concentrate on that you are going to put yourself under a lot of pressure.

"And after Sydney I went to Perth, everyday I kept telling myself I have done really well in one-day cricket, that's international cricket as well. I have scored eight centuries, I kept telling myself. Started really believing in myself once again, and neglecting all the other pressure." Kohli, like Laxman all those years ago, was fighting to get accepted.

And fight Kohli has. In the second innings at the WACA he got into a position where he would have thought of a century, but was left stranded on 75, with three tailenders falling in the same over. Perth earned him an approval that doesn't come easy - Richie Benaud's.

Adelaide is now the third Indian innings in a row that Kohli has top-scored in. It's not just the numbers, though. It's the clarity he has played with that stands out. It's the clarity that has deserted the veterans of the side on this tour, barring at times Sachin Tendulkar. The shots were crisp, the leaves better. The flick to the left of square leg worked like Laxman's. He dominated the lesser bowlers as Australia waited for the new ball. For the first time in this series, Kohli put together a session where an Indian wicket didn't look around the corner.

Australia have apply pressure through tight lines all series, but they have got away with loose deliveries too because the batsmen have been put in too tentative a mindset to capitalise. With Kohli today, almost every loose ball was punished. He got those loose balls because he had withstood the early seam bowling. The pulled six off Michael Clarke's not-short-enough delivery was perhaps the most positive an Indian batsman has been through the series.

A little too late in the day perhaps, but it did get to Australia. They looked a bit flustered. It made you wonder if there might have been a better fight if more Indian batsmen had played with clarity sooner in the series.

You couldn't take your eye off Kohli in the 90s, with the tail, barring Ishant Sharma, refusing to hang around. This was all too similar to Perth. Two of them fell in two balls. He was on 91. Not again, he thought. Somehow Ishant saw through an over, and in the next Kohli pulled off shots, and reached 99. Then came the near run-out, and verbals from Australia. It was a small win for Kohli; he had got them out of their comfort zone.

It was high drama. Then Kohli got to the century, and found release. Kohli's celebration wasn't the way Laxman celebrated, but there was the same relief of a man who thought he belonged after he had been made to feel unwanted. Of a man whose place was threatened by Rohit Sharma several times this series. The overriding thought remains that if Kohli had been denied an opportunity to make a Laxman-like century in Australia, it would have been due to India's insistence on playing Laxman.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Tahir on January 29, 2012, 5:11 GMT

    But he is no replacement for any of the fab4 or even rohit sharma. He was not the main target of the aussie bowlers as they wanted to ensure that tendulkar doesn't get past 99, someone is very very stupid, the wall can be breached at will and viru is out of form despite his 219 in ODIs. Kohli has just mediocre average in tests but considering the state of current indian bench strength we have to take him as future of indian batting. He needs someone like chappel to get disciplined like ganguly.

  • Vijay on January 27, 2012, 3:46 GMT

    give me so many chances even i'll get a hundred...kohli has got the privilege that pujara, badrinath, rohit and a few others havent got....its not surprising that he has got a hundred here....

  • Dummy4 on January 27, 2012, 3:00 GMT

    After watching his dismissal to a bouncer it's no wonder Gambhir is calling for India to keep preparing rank turners at home. If I were him I would stop whinging about bouncy seaming pitches and work quietly at improving my game in that area. I still don't understand his view that pitches in the series can have demons in it when Australia are piling on scores of in excess of 500 runs and then India are coming out and batting on the same pitch and being bundled out for 150 odd. Seems like a lack of proper technique and patience is the issue not the condition of the pitch.

  • Dummy4 on January 27, 2012, 2:42 GMT

    way they have played first 3 test .(and also the 4th one) no one deserve to have place in team .

  • Rishi on January 27, 2012, 2:02 GMT

    This article by Mr. Monga remains incomplete without pointing out who (among IND batsmen) does not belong to tests. Author has been very harsh and explicit about VVS Laxman but he parried about the credentials of Selfish SRT, Bigmouth Shewag and Mr. Nice-RSD. They should have been gone by now rather extinct like Dinosaurs from IND cricket. They are just surviving on life saving devices for comedy show like IPL. After 2 consecutive white washes, all these loosers will play in IPL, hitting pedestrian bowler and cheering.

  • Johnathon on January 27, 2012, 1:22 GMT

    Very funny. I saw recently an article in cricinfo saying that "Yadav stands tall among the rubble". What a joke, he's been bowling at an average of 40 with an economy rate near 4.5. How is that the best bowler? Just because he got a 5 wicket haul, he is praised as the next McGrath. Indian media overrates their bowlers. Ironically, the best bowler in the Aus Series was Ishant who has a worse average, but Kohli has been the best player hands down.

  • Tahir on January 27, 2012, 0:31 GMT

    Rohit/Ajinkya/Jadeja/ Raina - IN ??????????????????????? Rohit jadeja kohli can be given a run but they are no replacement for greats,

  • Tahir on January 27, 2012, 0:22 GMT

    But he is no replacement for the greats like tendulkar, sehwag, laxman, dravid, gavaskar and ganguly. he is getting extended run as he is not the main target of aussie bowling. they are more concentrating on denying tendulkar the hundred, breaching the wall spectecularly, proving someone is not very very special outside india and sehwag is out of form despite 219 ODI record. by becoming team spekesmen for indian team both kohli and gambhir cannot become great players.

  • Prashant on January 26, 2012, 23:42 GMT

    ive watched him at the emerging players tournament in brisbane a couple of years ago, and on a tricky pitch after M Vijay, Mukund and Badrinath failed, kohli looked a class above everyone and made a hundred. he looked positive from ball one, and backed it up with runs in all innings, including a match winning knock in the final.

  • Cool on January 26, 2012, 22:54 GMT

    Still do not like the attitude of indian players , Kohli played well and scored a century but the way he celebrated , it appeared as if India has won the match . Why are we focusing on personal goals ? Century is sure a big thing but don't forget India will most likely lose this match and will be 0-4 , complete whitewash. Personal performances don't win matches . Even if he scored a 100 , attitude needs to be changed . Primary focus should be on winning . Aggression is good but you can't boast that we'll beat them when they come to India . Overall , i like the aggression , tells us about the new breed of Indian cricketers but focus should be changed to winning rather than personal milestones . You can be proud after scoring a hundred but remember that your team is losing so there's no need to show arrogance .

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