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Kohli: 'The desperation to get that three-figure mark can grow on you'

Virat Kohli opens up about going three years without a Test century, and how he prepares to bat in a variety of conditions

Virat Kohli says a quiet prayer after scoring his first Test century since November 2019, India vs Australia, 4th Test, Ahmedabad, 4th day, March 12, 2023

It took a while, but Virat Kohli celebrated Test century no. 28 in Ahmedabad  •  Getty Images

Virat Kohli had not scored a Test hundred since November 2019. That three-year drought ended in Ahmedabad this week, when he brought up his 28th Test century in the final match of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. After the game, in conversation with the India coach Rahul Dravid on BCCI.tv, Kohli admitted the wait for a hundred had tested his patience. Following is the edited transcript of their chat.
Rahul Dravid: I have seen this young man [Kohli] score plenty of hundreds, seen him as a player when I was playing, seen a lot of hundreds of his on television, but I have taken over as coach about 15-16 months ago and was a bit desperate to actually to see him score a Test hundred and really enjoy it from the comfort of the dressing room … And it was a beauty. You made me wait a long time, but it was an absolute privilege and a pleasure to watch that innings and the way you constructed it. So really well played.
Dravid: We were in the field for two days and the wicket got a little bit more challenging as the day went on. They tested your patience, they challenged you skill-wise, and mentally as well. What is the mindset? How did you go about doing that?
Virat Kohli: Thanks for your kind words, Rahul bhai. As far as approaching this innings was concerned, I knew that I was playing well even in the Test matches before we played this one (Ahmedabad). To be fair it was a really good wicked to bat on, but having said that, the Australians, whatever little help was there in the wicket, they utilised it really well. Their consistency to bowl in the little rough that was created through Mitchell Starc bowling for Nathan Lyon and the other off spinner (Todd Murphy) as well. They capitalised on it really well: the fact that they put a 7-2 field most of the time for me meant that I had to be patient. I had to trust my defence. And that's the template I've always played with in Test cricket: my defence is my strongest point. Because when I defend well then I know that when the ball is loose and it's there to hit, I can cash in and get the runs that I need. The boundaries were not easy to come by, the outfield was slow, the ball was soft, and they were pretty consistent.
The one thing that really calmed me down was: I'm happy to just run ones and twos and score a hundred. I can bat four sessions. I can bat five sessions here. I go into the field relaxed because I know I can bat in many ways. I'm not desperate if I play three sessions and I feel like I'm breaking down here and I need to get fast runs, otherwise I won't be able to stay out there for long.
So for people who must have seen it, or, we have watched you guys back so many times in the past as well, the one thing that stood out was, batting fitness, which was to be able to bat five sessions, six sessions. For that you need to physically prepare yourself. I'm pretty happy scoring 30 runs in a session and not hit a boundary and absolutely not be desperate because I know that boundaries will come, but even if I have to play like this, I can bat six sessions and get 150. I have no issues doing that. So the preparation paid off. It's not something that you can do for two months or three months. I've been doing it for seven, eight years non-stop every day of my life. So when I'm in these situations that naturally comes to the surface and it really helps me in challenging conditions.
Dravid: Sometimes as a coach, there's frustration (hearing a player say) - "oh, this is the only way I know how to play ... You mentioned a line there that 'I feel confident when I go in because I know I can bat in different ways.' Maybe just elaborate on that a little bit and talk to us on some of the preparation of playing on a turner. You have got a hundred in Perth, you have got a hundred in English conditions. Can you always play the same way all the time?
Kohli: No, I don't think you can play in the same way all the time. You need to adjust according to the conditions that are in front of you. This is one of the main reasons why I have been able to play all formats of the game for so long. The adaptability comes from knowing that physically I can do things in many different ways. Mentally, I can prepare to play a certain way or play in another way, but if my body won't support it, then I'll be found out. An example would be, even in this Test match, I would back myself to run six doubles an over for a span of six, seven overs if the scoring rate needs to be upped; it's not necessarily that I look to clear deep midwicket, and that is my only option because that brings in the risk as well.
So that's why I have been able to bat in different situations and bat differently in different conditions because I was able to take ones and twos and I could do the power-hitting as well. For that you need to have all-round fitness, and that is something that you need to work on every day. You might have a great phase where you feel great, but then if the conditions are challenging and the run-scoring is not ideal, I wouldn't want to play a bad shot and get out when the team needs me. So I always felt like, how can I prepare better. How can I find more ways to help my team win the game, but in a way that the situation demands me to, not in a way that I prefer to do it this way.
Dravid: That's exactly, for me, the essence of what a team player is: playing according to the situation of the team and developing the skills, knowing that the team will be put in different situations and challenging yourself. I mean, we are talking to someone who's one of the best six-hitters, he could've stepped out and hit a six anytime he wanted, but realised what the team needed and played according to that situation. That's really for me is a sign of an absolute champion cricketer.
You are someone who takes a lot of pride in your performances, who's had that habit of scoring hundreds so regularly. I know that a lot of this period there has been Covid, there's not been a lot of Test matches, but has it been hard? Has it been tough not scoring a hundred … ?
Kohli: I have let the complications grow on me a little bit because of my own shortcomings. The desperation to get that three-figure mark is something that can grow on you as a batsman and we have all experienced that at some stage or the other. I let that happen to me to a certain extent, but also the flip side to it is - I'm not a guy who's happy with 40 and 45. I have always been someone who takes a lot of pride in performing for the team. It's not like Virat Kohli should stand out. When I'm batting on 40, I know I can get a 150 here and that will help my team. So that was eating me up a lot - why am I not able to get that big score for the team? Because I always took pride in the fact that when the team needed me, I would step up and perform in different conditions in difficult situations. The fact that I wasn't able to do that was bothering me.
Not so much the milestones as such, because I never played for milestones. A lot of people ask me this question, how do you keep scoring hundreds? And I have always told them, a hundred is something that happens along the way within my goal, which is to bat as long as possible for the team and get as many runs as possible for the team. But, yeah, if I have to be brutally honest, it does become a little complicated and difficult because the moment you step out of the hotel room, right from the guy outside the room to the guy at the lift, to bus driver, whoever is saying: we want a hundred.
So it does play on your mind all the time, but that's the beauty of playing for so long as well - to have these complications come up and to overcome these small little challenges. And then when it comes together nicely, like it did in this game, then that gives you an extra gust of air to go beyond, go further and start enjoying the cricket a lot more and be more excited for what's to come. I'm just happy that it happened at the right time before the World Test Championship finals. I'll definitely be going there very relaxed and a very excited man.
Dravid: Thanks Virat, thanks for your honesty. That's really a great lesson for a lot of young kids as well to know that even great, champion players at times can feel a certain amount of pressure. The pressure of expectations is because of your own performance.