The long and tedious wait for Virat Kohli’s 75th international century dragged on to another day. It has been 784 days since he registered his longest ever wait and a span in which both his life and cricket changed unrecognizably. He became a father, forsook captaincy, and the halo around his batting has just begun to fade. But for all the changes in his life and career, for all the intrigue that surrounds his decision to step down as Test and T20 captain, he hasn’t lost his passion or intensity, the drive or energy, those characteristics that define him, on the field. Relinquishing captaincy has not doused the fire of ambition in him; not even in ODIs, the only format wherein captaincy was stripped off him. He might be quieter when fielding, he might not exhort the bowlers as fervently as when he was the captain, he might not walk or run as urgently as when he was the captain, the stump mic might not capture the incessant hard-edged tone of his chatter.
But it’s no longer Kohli’s business to inject energy and intensity into his colleagues when fielding—it’s the duty of the captain to conduct the orchestra, and Kohli is no longer one. It would have been weird had he run around the field as animatedly as he had been when he was the captain. It would have painted him as overbearing and obtrusive, keen to impose his persona even when he was not the captain. So he was sedate. There were no turbo-charged celebrations, no vein-popping or fist-punching, or feisty send-offs. Phew, he even had a congratulatory chat with de Kock, as he walked back to the dressing room.
But let his calmness not be misconstrued as detachment, or a lack of passion. For, it was the usual Kohli when he strode out to bat. Evident was his bristling intensity to revive his gold standards, the burning passion to slog through the desert and find an oasis of hundreds. Only such a switched-on, determined batsman, and not a cagey one, could flick the first ball off his body for a four. It might have been a semi-loose ball, but the emphatic way he whipped it stressed that none of his hunger has diminished. He would not go easy into the sunset.
On the contrary to rumours that he had lost his vigour. He seemed extra-energised, super-stimulated. There were some clues that captured his mindset—like the striding front-foot, the buoyant drives and the alacritous running between the wickets. The usual spirit-sapping stream of singles appeared through the leg side. In between he drove with thrilling, easy power through the covers. He teased out the weak points of South Africa’s bowling and pulled them apart. None of his fours was a cover-drive, well-cushioned as the region was. But he drove as sumptuously as he had in recent times. He seemed to have regained his free-spiritedness. Not fully, but almost fully.
Impressively, he didn’t look to over-impose himself. At times in his journey to rediscovery, he had looked over-eager and in the end self-defeated him. Here, he struck an impeccable balance of mind, for all the outward energy. For 41 balls, he was content stealing singles. If he stepped once in a while, it was not in pursuit of boundaries, but to dishevel the length of the bowlers.
At times, he veered into the Steve Smith realm of a mime-artist, giving the onlooker a visual running commentary of what is buzzing through his head. Like when the bat flipped in his hand when cover-driving Lungi Ngidi, he screamed at himself, shadow-practiced the stroke a couple of times and yelled at his non-striker Shikhar Dhawan that “boundary marna tha.” Later, when Ngidi’s dipping floated beat him, he blew a sarcastic wink at him.
When he missed a horrible half-tracker from Sisanda Magala, he grimaced and seemed close to beating his own brow in frustration as he ran the single. The shrug of the shoulder, the shake of his head, the broad smile, the warm applause, the bulging eyes when he stretched for a two, a whole range of emotions flashed and flickered across his face. Those were clear signs that he was enjoying his batting. For when he is not, he turns pensive and ponderous, does his best to hide his emotions. Here, he let it flow, more aptly, let it rip. He fell 35 runs short of his 75th century—but in a broader sense, it didn’t matter, for there were enough signs and portents that he has lost none of his intensity and passion.