Match Analysis

'Relaxed' Kohli rediscovers a bit of his mojo: 'You just need the right perspective'

"With the very first shot I knew that tonight's probably the time I have to back myself more and go for my shots"

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Virat Kohli has hit 570 fours in the IPL. The 571st is an inside edge off Hardik Pandya, and he almost starts celebrating. It is quite reminiscent of the outside edge in the tense 2016 World Cup semi-final when West Indies had tied India down in the first half of their innings. That outside edge for four got Kohli going. Here, he has already hit Mohammed Shami for two fours, one back over his head and one over cover.
The 572nd four has Kohli properly pumped up. On first look, it seems like he has picked out deep square leg, but it turns out the fielder, Rashid Khan, is too far in off the boundary and is lobbed. Kohli starts gesticulating, making sure he is not pointing to anyone in particular in the opposition, but his lips read, "Go back." It is almost like he is saying he is King Kohli, and who do you think you are standing in off the rope?
At the other end, Faf du Plessis is riding the wave.
"I understand Virat in the sense that it gets him going," du Plessis tells Star Sports. "It's that fire, that personality, the character. So I play the role with him, I am getting pumped up. And it's really fun to bat out there when he is going like that. He has got so much emotion he pulls you with you. In the sense that you are almost ready to play a rugby match. Because of all the energy going through you."
It is a season where Kohli, in the words of Mike Hesson and du Plessis, has found out ways to get out. Hit straight to point and short midwicket first ball, bottom edge into the thigh pad that carries to short fine leg, run out when batting with David Willey, lbw to first ball in the IPL from Dewald Brevis. Perhaps it is this change of luck that Kohli is after, that is apparent to him in these two shots. It is a direct contrast to his walking back, looking up at the skies with a "why me" look.
This 33-year-old Kohli, a batter who has conquered pretty much everything there is to conquer in Tests and ODIs, a young parent, has got perspective on life. He knows if he has had some wretched luck of late, he has had some good fortune too.
"It's in that spur of that moment that you feel like why is this happening to me?" he tells Star Sports. "But if you go back to 2018 England, my first innings I was dropped on 22, I got 149. The juggernaut of 2014 could have started all over again. But it didn't.
"There are so many things [that go wrong but] you can't complain about. I can pick and choose so many moments when I was dropped, I was lucky, and then I played probably some of the best innings of my career. Yes you feel disappointed, but if I am standing here being ungrateful, then I don't think it's fair. Because I have been blessed with a lot. I just want to keep working hard, just keep my head down and try to help my team as much as I can."
Keep working hard. It can sometimes become a vicious cycle in cricket. The results are not always in direct proportion to the effort you put in. When you don't get the results, you can tend to work harder, and then even harder when that doesn't bring the results.
"You just need to keep the perspective right," Kohli says. "You need to understand there are expectations because of what you have achieved and what you have done over so many years. And sometimes what happens is that in the need to perform and live up to those standards you kind of forget the process that why you ended up performing so well or so much over the years.
"So you just need to go back to the drawing board and say you know what I just want to look at the ball and hit it. Sometimes you can think of all the things that can go wrong and not the things that can go right when you are on the field. So I worked really hard before this game. I batted about 90 minutes in the net yesterday. I kept backing myself every ball. I wanted clarity every ball that I played. And I was able to achieve that for 90 minutes. So I came to this game very free. And relaxed that I can back myself every ball out there and not think of what if something goes wrong. So that's something that you can tend to go into when you have a lot of expectations from yourself."
If he sounds like someone who had begun to doubt himself - and who can blame him, he last scored a century in 2019 - that insecurity had to coexist with unmistakable confidence.
"I think with the very first shot I played off Shami I felt like that (his old self)," Kohli says. "Because it was a length ball, and I was able to back myself and hit him back over his head. I just felt like I could hit length balls over bowlers' head for four and six.
"That's when I know I am in a very good head space because then I am not bothered about the ball pitched in the right area. When I can hit good balls for four, then I know I am going to get balls that I can hit for four otherwise as well. So yeah with the very first shot I knew that tonight's probably the time I have to back myself more and go for my shots."
Living through all these emotions can be exhausting. It can drain you even before you get into a contest. But half an hour after the contest, Kohli is not at all fatigued and looking for more. It is this small break that he has been waiting for. How much has he left in the tank?
"Quite a bit. I can keep going. No issues at all."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo