Kohli keeps raising the bar
Virat Kohli, 23, now has 12 ODI hundreds. When combined, the two numbers are almost scary. Consistency is one thing, but four hundreds in five innings? Contrast them with some of his peers, and they appear even more astonishing. We still talk of Rohit Sharma's potential. Ajinkya Rahane still waits mostly on the sidelines. Cheteshwar Pujara remains injured more often than not. But Kohli continues to pile on the hundreds. He now has seven after the World Cup win alone; against seven teams, in five countries.
The ones in Hobart, against Sri Lanka, and in Dhaka, against Pakistan, have to be, arguably, among the best ODI innings of all time. He still has a long way to go in Tests, but Kohli now owns the ODI format. He's mastered the art of building an ODI innings. Whether it is batting first or chasing, coming in early or in the middle, he instinctively knows when to go after the bowling, when to rotate the strike, or when to defend. And whatever be the situation, whatever is the demand, he appears to be in control. Saturday's first-innings century against Sri Lanka in Hambantota was another such effort.
Gautam Gambhir had fallen in the third over. Virender Sehwag was looking rusty. Kohli settled in immediately, and suddenly, the innings gained traction. He left his first ball alone, defended the second, and thrashed the third for a boundary past point.
Kohli likes to get forward. It is not an exaggerated step down the track, but it gives him many more options with his strokes, especially on the subcontinent. He can whip-drive a delivery through extra cover, he can swat-flick the same ball through midwicket. It also enables him to defend solidly. One such defensive forward push even brought him three runs past extra cover early in his innings.
A measure of calmness having been restored after Gambhir's wicket, Kohli let Sehwag take over to do what only he can - hit outrageous boundaries. Throughout their 173-run partnership, Kohli let Sehwag be the leader, while he followed not very far behind. There were glimpses of their mammoth double-century stand from the opening game of the World Cup, but in that match, Kohli had come in at 152 for 2, with Sehwag already in top gear. This time, it was a different situation, and Kohli spoke about adapting to it.
"This is something that I have tried to learn over a period of time that you need to see how the situation is going, how the other partner is batting," Kohli said. "When I went in Gauti bhai [Gambhir] had just got out and I decided to be a bit more positive because looking at my stats in the previous matches that I have played in Sri Lanka I had played too many dot balls. I had a positive mindset today - just go out there, just hit the boundary balls and make sure I execute them well.
"My role in the team has been of a sheet anchor. Initially I struck a few fours and after that I sort of took over my role when Viru bhai [Sehwag] started hitting the ball beautifully. When he plays like that you don't really need to do much so my job was left to just rotate the strike and take the singles and doubles and hit the odd boundary in between. When he got out I took over. I became more aggressive; it is all about adapting to different situations and seeing how the other guy is playing. If your partner is scoring well and being aggressive then you can get into your role and try and play till the 40th over so that the team can benefit from it."
Kohli did exactly that. He got out to the last ball of the 40th over, but not before a series of inside-out lofts, swat-flicks, dabs and slashes had ensured India did not get bogged down after the successive wickets of Sehwag and Rohit.
Kohli now has three successive hundreds against Sri Lanka. At some stage, it must start to feel all too easy when you dominate a particular opposition so much. Kohli doesn't think so. "The situations can be very different. You can take that as a positive but coming into this innings, I didn't have the best of IPL seasons and I just wanted to forget it. I am lucky I got a break in between and at times you regroup and comeback and just mentally be more relaxed and be calmer.
"If you have done well against an opposition you can take that as a confidence booster but at the same time you have to work hard and prepare your game before the match. Coming into this game I think it was really important how my mindset is going to be in this season. This season is really important for the team so I really put in a conscious effort to stay as relaxed and as calm as before the match and it really paid off. I was able to stay in that zone, stay in that calm place and when I went out there I was pretty relaxed compared to the previous games I have played in the IPL."
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo