IND vs AUS: Virat Kohli was unbeaten on 59 at stumps on Saturday. For any game in India, this is one line that means so much to so many. For the broadcaster, it’s a reason to whip up a frenzy to bait the viewers to stay tuned. For the local organisers, it guarantees increased footfalls. For the security agencies, it means a busy day and for the pav bhaji sellers outside the stadium, it’s a clear signal to order extra pavs.
In India, there aren’t many better options for a Sunday outing than to watch Kohli bat and possibly score his much-awaited 28th Test 100. A possible sequel to Day 1, when Ahmedabad turned up in hordes to fill the seats to watch the PMs, can be expected on Day 4. This time the reason for the trip to the stadium will be purely cricketing.
Pundits have a habit of overusing the cliche ‘the first session will be crucial’ at the end of the day’s play. They can be justified for using it after Day 3. At 289/3, India still trail by 191 runs. With runs on board and wickets in hand, Rohit Sharma’s team can be expected to push the pedal on Sunday. For that, they will need Kohli to be around. Not just to score quick runs but also to be the sherpa to the less-experienced batsmen in the tough climb to an intimidating total that would put pressure on the Australians in their second innings.
FIFTY & Counting 💥
Test half-century number 2️⃣9️⃣ for @imVkohli 😎#TeamIndia 🇮🇳 | #INDvAUS | @mastercardindia pic.twitter.com/RjiMa8GAFb
— BCCI (@BCCI) March 11, 2023
Nathan Lyon, after the game, said that all three results are a possibility. Later, he would scribble a disclaimer when asked about the left-arm pacer Mitchel Starc’s footmarks on the pitch and how they can possibly help the spinner. “The pitch is too hard, there are no footmarks,” he said, putting a question mark over the wishful thinking of India winning the Test on Day 5 and confirming their place in the World Test Championship final.
But that’s going far too ahead in the story of a Test series with unrelenting ebbs and flows. Before the Day 5 speculations, there will be a collective wait, in the first session on Day 4, for Kohli to score 41 more runs. The last time Kohli scored a hundred was 41 innings and three and a half years back. At Ahmedabad, the signs are there to break the 100 drought. A flat track, tired bowlers, an easy match situation and a Sunday crowd – the stars are aligned for Kohli to lead India’s charge for yet another famous win against Australia.
Ahmedabad doesn’t take pains to hide its Kohli fandom. Even while No.3 Cheteshwar Pujara waited on the pitch for the DRS review, the ‘Kohli, Kohli’ chants rose from the stands. They would get their wish as the ball projection showed that the Todd Murphy ball that Pujara missed would have hit the centre of the middle stump. If the crowd was expecting an authoritative start from the former Indian captain, they would have been disappointed.
Ironically for the first time in the series, on the flattest track on offer, Kohli looked a touch vulnerable at the start. Though he hasn’t converted any of his starts, he had looked refreshingly assured in his brief stays on the turners. On this flat beauty, he was repeatedly beaten in the first dozen balls. Both the inside and the outside edges were threatened by Lyon and Murphy.
While he was still tentative, the game stopped for the tea break. Deep in thought, Kohli walked with his head down. Next to him was the man of the moment and the centurion Shubman Gill. The fading superstar and the rising star, they made for an odd couple. Kohli, the face of Indian cricket, still happens to be the biggest brand the game has ever seen. Of late, Gill’s image and stature have risen exponentially. With a model-like jawline, sharp features and toothpaste advertisement smile, he has been on the cover of lifestyle magazines and also in the gossip columns of tabloids. He also has the runs. In the last four months, he has 6 three-digit international scores across formats and that includes an ODI double hundred.
Kohli has been there before but now Gill, with a swagger in place, has started walking that path. For all his runs and game, Gill still remains the Next Big Indian Batsman. The present-day cricketer with a mass following remains Kohli. The passing of baton ceremony isn’t quite round the corner yet for Kohli is far from over.
After tea, he would settle down, particularly against Starc, driving, punching, and gliding him. Post that flurry, he started to ease against the spinners as well. He made sure he got his hands forward to get his bat ahead of his pad and didn’t let his bottom hand take over too much on the with-the-turn nudges he deployed.
When the spinners floated it further outside off, especially when they were full, he scythed them through cover point. The slowness of the track also allowed him to press back to defend the stock off breaks from good length. Early on, the left-armer Matthew Kuhnemann slipped in a mirror image of the ball that dismissed Kohli in the second innings at Indore – a short of length delivery on the middle and leg line, but the sluggish track mean it didn’t skid on and Kohli pulled it to wide midwicket boundary.
Every Kohli boundary brought the roof down. The thousands wearing the Virat 18 T-shirts, and many more, will turn up again on Sunday. As India will be looking for quick runs with the hope of giving their spinners more time to dismiss the Aussies in their second innings. Along with Kohli, there will be Shreyas Iyer who can play a blazing cameo and entertain the crowd. It’s especially on such days India misses Rishabh Pant the most.