Match Analysis

No 'desperation' for 'relaxed' Kohli in yet another clinical innings

As an anchor in ODIs who can accelerate in the death overs as he did on Sunday, Kohli is proving to be indispensable

Hemant Brar
Hemant Brar
"If Lionel Messi is the GOAT in football, it's Virat Kohli for me in international cricket," former Sri Lanka allrounder Farveez Maharoof said on ESPNcricinfo's show Match Day.
The debate about the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) in any field, let alone sports, is a fascinating exercise. In reality, though, every great is standing on the shoulders of a previous great. Be it Messi, on Diego Maradona's. Or Magnus Carlsen, on Garry Kasparov's. Or Kohli, on Sachin Tendulkar's. Perhaps, the "best in the world" is a more apt accolade.
However, Kohli recently said he is not out there to prove anything. In his own words, he is there to play every game like it's his last, and be happy about it, not sad.
Against Sri Lanka in Thiruvananthapuram, he hit his third ODI hundred in the last four innings in the format. But that is a somewhat deceptive way of putting it. After the first hundred in that sequence - against Bangladesh last month - there was a Test series, and Kohli admitted that things didn't quite go as planned for him there.
Then, in the first ODI against Sri Lanka, he hit another century. While it was an attacking innings, it wasn't flawless. He was reprieved twice, on 52 and 81.
But his knock on Sunday - an unbeaten 166 off 110 balls - was blemish-free. He was as clinical as he has ever been. The only time he appeared close to being dismissed was when, on 82, he chipped Lahiru Kumara towards long-on. The fielder was a few yards inside the boundary line, and despite his jump, the ball sailed over for a six.
Kohli reached his half-century in 48 balls and took only 37 more to bring up his 46th ODI century. By the time this year ends, he may even become the first batter to score 50 ODI hundreds, breaking Tendulkar's record of 49.
Kohli was batting at a similar strike rate in the first ODI too. He had brought up his fifty in 47 balls and his hundred in 80. But after that, he seemed to be running on fumes. That was not the case on Sunday. In fact, he seamlessly moved into a higher gear. In the 25 balls he faced after reaching his hundred, he smashed three fours and seven sixes. One of those sixes was a helicopter shot to a slower ball from Rajitha.
He took only 21 balls for his third fifty. His 150, off 106 balls, was the second-fastest 150 for India, only behind Ishan Kishan's 103-ball effort during his double-century against Bangladesh last month. In all, Kohli hit eight sixes - the most by him in an ODI.
In a modern T20 line-up, there may not be a place for an anchor. In ODIs, though, there is. At least for now.
With an ODI innings lasting more than double the length of a T20 one, there is more premium on wickets. An anchor can hold one end, allowing power-hitters to play their game. And if that anchor is Kohli, who can accelerate in the death overs as he did in Thiruvananthapuram, he becomes indispensable.
Before the 2022 Asia Cup, there was a three-year period when Kohli failed to score a single international hundred. According to Kohli, his 42-day break from cricket, after the England tour till the start of the Asia Cup, put him back in a great mental space, and his current form is just a result of that.
"Ever since I came back from that long break, I have been feeling very good about my game," he said after his knock on Sunday. "I don't have that desperation anymore to get to a milestone. For me, it's just about enjoying my batting and helping the team as much as I can. And I am just happy that I am able to do that and able to continue being in the space where I am relaxed. I am content with how I am playing, and that, for me, is the most important thing.
"Today as well I was just happy to be out there, to be batting, to be batting for as long as possible. In that space, I end up playing my best cricket. That has been the case in the past as well. When I got a bit desperate, things were running away from me.
"I am in a nice space right now and I just want to continue with the same. Just be organic every day however I feel. I just follow that feeling and I don't fight anything."
India, too, will want him to be in that space as long as possible.

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo