January 26th, 2012. The Adelaide Oval, Australia.
The Indian cricket team was scraping the bottom of the barrel, looking for something to take away from what was one of their worst overseas tours in recent memory. They had lost the first two Test matches in humiliating fashion, and were on their way to losing the third as well. This, coming off a soul-crushing whitewash against England in the summer of 2011, spelled disaster for Indian cricket.
Rumours were circulating like wild fire about who was going to get the axe. Was it the famed trio of Tendulkar-Laxman-Dravid who would have to go? Would the selectors drop both Sehwag and Gambhir? It was clear that the unit was not performing up to the standard that saw them rise to the number one spot in the Test rankings prior to their losses against England.
While there was no epic save similar to Laxman’s 281 in this game, nor was there a miraculous turnaround for India in the match or in the rest of the series, there was one shining light that emerged from the tour. Virat Kohli had scored two consecutive half centuries in both Sydney and Adelaide, and the second of them he converted into a fantastic hundred – his first in Test match cricket.
It was a sign of things to come for the Indian cricket team, as Kohli would only go from strength to strength afterwards, becoming one of the best ODI batsmen the game has ever seen and establishing himself in the Test side as one of the premier batsmen.
In 2014-15, India toured Australia again, and Virat Kohli was handed the captaincy in the absence of MS Dhoni for the first Test, which was in Adelaide. The match had quite the build-up, having been postponed due to the unfortunate death of Phillip Hughes. However, as soon as the cricket started, it all became business as usual as both teams knuckled down and focussed on the game at hand.
Australia batted first and scored a mammoth 517 courtesy of emotional centuries from David Warner and Michael Clarke. India’s response, led by none other than the captain himself with a composed 115, allowed Australia a lead of 73. Australia added 290 more runs to this, meaning that India had to get 364 runs to win the Test.
The date was December 13, 2014. With both Dhawan and Pujara departing relatively early, Kohli joined Murali Vijay at the crease while India were 57-2. A massive target was in front of the pair, and on a turning fifth-day pitch, they had to be extremely cautious of off-spinner Nathan Lyon. Pacers Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle were not going to make things easy for them either.
Virat Kohli celebrates his incredible last-day century at the Adelaide Oval in 2014-15 (source – espncricinfo.com)
The Australians were known for their ruthlessness in the field after the rout of England the previous year, and with them playing at home, it was going to be an immensely difficult task to deny them a victory.
And thus began the best Test match innings I have ever seen.
Kohli and Vijay shared in a 185-run stand, with both of them looking to play their shots freely and prevent the bowling from settling down. It was pure magic, and at that point, India would have not only dreamt of a draw, but even an implausible victory. Kohli soon hit three figures; his second century of the match and his fourth against Australia. He was guiding India to what would be one of their best wins.
However, Vijay was dismissed by Lyon for 99, right after Kohli reached his century. It was this wicket that gave the Australians hope. They had sniffed blood and were not going to let up until their opponents lay dead at their feet. Ajinkya Rahane came in, and given his reputation, India looked to be in good hands. Five balls later, though, he was gone, courtesy of Lyon once again.
A win at this stage was becoming increasingly distant, but as long as Kohli was there, India were still alive. Kohli was batting as if he was on another plane of existence. The pressure of the chase, the roar of the crowds, the demons in the pitch; all of it seemed to fade away as he comfortably middled each and every delivery, be it pace or spin.
He swept Lyon for four through mid-wicket, punched through gaps in the offside for singles and doubles, flashed his bat to send the ball flying through the covers and authoritatively pulled Mitchell Johnson – the man who had single handedly torn England apart, for four; it seemed that he could do no wrong.
We have so often heard batsmen speak about being ‘in the zone’, which is when they pull through near-impossible situations to virtually steal runs from the opposition. Kohli, it would seem to me, had discovered a zone beyond such zones. It was pure madness to watch such perfection in what was probably one of the closest Test matches that I had seen up to that point, if not the closest.
I marvelled at how he kept his calm even as wickets kept tumbling around him. I thought for sure that as long as Kohli was at the crease, India winning was not even a question: it was a certainty.
Until he made one single mistake.
It was a shorter one from Lyon, and Kohli immediately moved towards the back foot to loft it into the orbit. Except he did not get all of it. Cries of ‘catch it!’ echoed throughout the ground, and at mid-on, Mitchell Marsh completed the catch that would crush India’s resistance once and for all in this match.
As the Australians congregated around Marsh, virtually assured of their victory, Kohli stood at the crease, bent over the pitch he had conquered. He stared at the ground, comprehending what he had done and what it meant for his team. Watching him stand there was heartbreaking, because he had given everything he had to ensure a victory for India.
Virat Kohli’s glittering effort in the 2014-15 Adelaide Test ultimately went in vain, as India fell 49 runs short short of their target of 364 (source – india.com)
Kohli had batted better than he ever had before, but it had all come to nought. After several agonising moments, he started to head back to the pavilion. As he neared the stands, applause rang out from the crowd as they acknowledged Kohli’s gargantuan effort. Watching at home, I was applauding him myself, for I could think of nothing else but the tenacity and mastery he displayed while at the crease.
The rest of the match was merely a formality after that, with India crashing to 315 all out and Australia winning what had been an emotional roller-coaster of a match. Of course, I was disappointed with the result, but it was hard to think bitterly of the defeat when India had given Australia such a good fight.
For the first time in what felt like forever, defeat in an overseas Test did not feel like it was an inevitable conclusion. I did not feel like criticising our bowlers, even though we conceded a bit more than we ought to . I did not feel like faulting our batsmen, because most of them did a splendid job. Even though Kohli’s captaincy was shaky at various points in the match, his batting more than made up for it.
It has been four years since that innings, and Kohli has gone on to make 16 Test centuries since, with six double hundreds sprinkled in between, but in my opinion, this innings, although it came in a losing cause, ranks above all of them because of the situation that the team was in and the way Kohli went about it.
Not one shot was misplaced and every run mattered to him, whether he smacking the ball for a boundary or was scampering through for a single. Kohli himself has rated this innings among the ones he is more fond of, and I think most of his fans would be hard-pressed to disagree.
The media (both in India and in Australia) has been hyping the clash between Kohli and the Australian bowling pack for a considerable amount of time now, with India’s tour of Australia happening at the moment, and it would seem that all eyes are on Kohli to see if he can produce another innings of this calibre.
Kohli’s 123 at Perth last week was spectacular, and one could argue that his wicket was the turning point of the match. With the much-awaited Melbourne and Sydney Tests still up for grabs, it would not be far-fetched to expect another mouthwatering Kohli gem in the next couple of weeks.