Hours before Royal Challengers Bangalore’s match against Gujarat Titans on Thursday, there were quotes released by broadcasters Star Sports in which Virat Kohli reflected on his struggles with the bat during Indian Premier League 2022.
Heading into the match, Kohli had managed to score just 236 runs in the season from 13 innings at a strike-rate of 113.46. Just like in a light-hearted chat published by RCB the previous week, Kohli was candid this time around too. He was even philosophical, saying he’s in the “happiest phase of his life”.
“My experiences are sacred to me. Whatever I have experienced in this phase or in the past as well, one thing I can vouch for is that I have never valued myself more as a person,” said Kohli. (You can read the rest of what he had to say here.)
But while the 33-year-old stated that he doesn’t seek self-worth in his on-field performances, he also made it clear that he’s still extremely driven and felt the disappointment of not contributing as much as he would have liked to for his side’s cause.
“Not to say that I don’t have the same drive, my drive will never die down. The day my drive goes away, I’ll not be playing this game,” he said.
And this drive was there for all to see in Kohli’s performance against table-toppers GT on Thursday. Literally, with his shot-making, and figuratively, with his signature intensity.
It was a must-win match for RCB to keep their hopes of qualifying for the playoffs alive. They needed their big guns to fire and they got just that, with the former skipper taking responsibility at the top of the order.
They say all it takes for a batter, at times, is one good shot to turn a corner. Kohli got that shot off the sixth delivery he faced. He admitted this later in the presentation ceremony where he picked up the player of the match award. The delivery was well short of a length but he remained on the front foot and swung his bat cleanly to send the ball back over Mohammed Shami’s head for four.
From there on, fans were treated to some vintage Kohli batting. The clarity in shot-selection, which was missing for the most part this season, was much better, the ball kept finding the middle of the bat, and in classic Kohli fashion, the boundaries were coming by merely extending straight-batted drives. And of course, the trademark wrist-work was on point too.
He brought up his half-century in just 33 balls, with his first six off the bowling of Rashid Khan.
Kohli’s intensity at the crease, as always, was palpable too. He got an inside-edge for four early in his innings and let out an animated fist pump. Captain Faf du Plessis, with whom Kohli shared a 115-run opening partnership, spoke about this energy in a light-hearted manner after the game.
“I understand Virat, that fire keeps him going,” said du Plessis. “So I play the role with him and get pumped up. It’s really fun to bat with him when he’s going like that because he’s got so much emotion and he pulls you with him. You feel like you’re almost ready to go play a rugby match because of all the energy going through you.”
Kohli finished with 73 runs from 54 balls, with eight fours and two sixes, at a strike-rate of 135.19. He slowed down a bit after getting a half-century but there was no denying this was his best knock of the season. Match after match, we had seen him frustrated after finding new ways of getting out. But this time, you could sense his immense satisfaction as he looked up and pointed to the heavens.
“It has been a challenging time, there’s no doubt about it,” said Kohli later in a chat with du Plessis.
He added: “A lot of things that are uncontrollable on the field, you feel them to the fullest. So I have experienced that this season. But I think the standout thing for me was my preparation yesterday. I batted for 90 minutes in the nets on the go, and all I was trying to do was get into a positive frame of mind every ball that I played.”
“I wasn’t thinking what if the ball turns, seams, swings or anything. I was simply watching the ball and reacting and telling myself to take the most positive option possible. So I just extended that into the game today. There are moments when you feel a bit doubtful but as soon as the bowler is running in to bowl, you have to tell yourself just watch the ball and hit it... I think the most basic thing is to be positive in your head when you’re setting up to face that ball.”
What the effort against Gujarat means for RCB in the tournament or even Kohli’s T20 career going forward is a discussion for another day. For now, it’s just about celebrating a knock many had been craving for. The fans in the stadium were on their feet, the commentators were buzzing, social media was full of tributes, and at the centre of it all was Kohli and his drive.