Almost Virat Kohli’d

India’s Tour Of Australia, 1st Test, Adelaide

Result: Australia won by 47 runs

I had to pinch myself after the second session on the final day of the first Test between India and Australia at Adelaide.
After a strange day 4, where Australia refused to accelerate and were forced to make a match out of it after yet another declaration (Indian bowlers managed just 12 wickets over two innings), the young Indian batting line-up, who suffered a lot in England after showing some fight in South Africa and New Zealand, had to survive 3 sessions of play. The target, 364, wasn’t even an option. 4 an over sounds easy in these days of Slam Bam cricket, but on a crumbling Adelaide day 5 pitch, not so much.

The Indians have never done well to just survive a day. When they know they have to draw the match, they catapult to an embarrassing defensive defeat.
Virat Kohli was aware of this.

As India’s temporary leader, he decided to change things a bit. Along with India’s new wall—Murali Vijay—he batted out the first session like they didn’t care about a draw, and like they didn’t even care about a win.

They just batted.
They played each ball on merit. They demonstrated that there were not too many demons on the pitch, except for a spot of rough which only Nathan Lyon could exploit. But Kohli swept him and swept him, until he didn’t know where to bowl. He was unlucky not to get Vijay out LBW twice, but when he finally got him after Tea, a draw stunningly seemed like the least likely option.

By now, the Indians had scared the Aussies witless with an impregnable Dravid-Laxman type partnership, with Kohli—who looked ever so imperious—middling every single ball. With Rahane and Rohit yet to come, either India would win it—a result most shocking to think of at the beginning of day 4 or 5—or India would draw it. It was in their hands. The Aussies could pray, and hope that Kohli got bored. But India’s captain pushed his team to do something no other Indian team would have ever considered. He pushed them to be aggressive and go for an outrageous victory. Abroad. Against Australia. After being outbowled and outbatted for four days. That’s the Kohli everyone wanted, and boy, did they get it.

He played an innings reminiscent of Sachin’s 136 at Chennai in 1999, a painful memory for most Indian fans. Little did they know that Kohli’s 143—his highest in tests by the end of India’s innings—would be even more painful, considering the dreams it built for a few hours, and considering how absolutely fearless the team looked for close to 5 hours.

And then, the India of old came back.
They collapsed around their best batsman. Kohli still didn’t want to give up. Rahane was unlucky, Rohit was clueless, and Saha played a shot that could end his career. Kohli still stood, still swept and still defied the bowling. He was in the zone. He made Lyon sweat. He made Australia the Australia we know—an aggressive, skilled pack of wolves going for the kill.

When Karn Sharma came to the crease as no. 9, Kohli played the single false shot. He fell short of immortality by a whisker, and Marsh caught him nervously at the midwicket boundary. Lyon got his man. Kohli, hunched over his bat, couldn’t believe it. Just like that, a dream that lasted for close to 2.5 sessions, a potential test match miracle, had ended.

India finally lost by 47 runs. They didn’t come close after Kohli left. A draw looked like a ridiculous option, considering the kind of cricket played by both teams. If not for the rain on day 2, the match wouldn’t have even gotten to this classic level. It was good hard test cricket played between two teams desperate to win for their own reasons.
In the end, Australia won it for Hughes.

Kohli could only admit defeat, and also admit that he’d rather lose going for the win than settling for a draw. This was what most new-age cricket fans wanted to hear. This is what I wanted to hear. But somehow, it feels hollow. The result didn’t change, but the process was heartbreaking.

Dhoni will be back at Brisbane in a few days to lead his team. With limited bowling resources. With batsman that will be given strict orders. Kohli wanted to out-bat India’s weak bowling and Australia’s strong batting single-handedly.
He almost did.

For now, glory remains on the backburner. India, again, are 0-1 down overseas. This time, though, they don’t look beaten. Not yet.

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