A return of 37 runs in two Test innings at Adelaide seems like an abject failure for the world’s best batsman. He had scored three in his first innings and got out to an adventurous shot very early into his innings.
When he came into bat at the fall of the second wicket in the form of KL Rahul, out to an extravagant drive outside off, one was curious to see what kind of approach he would adopt the second time round.
With India already around 90 runs ahead, with every run seeming like “gold dust” as Ashwin had succinctly put the previous day, an aggressive approach did have some rewards. A quick-fire cameo would have given India some much-needed runs, with the solid Pujara still around.
Nathan Lyon was bowling exceedingly well at the time. Even a batsman as sound as Pujara was coming out of the crease almost every second ball to smother the spin. Kohli, unlike Pujara, is not known to come out of the crease often against spin. And playing Lyon from the crease was fraught with danger.
So, a slightly aggressive approach could have made sense for Kohli if he had adopted one. But he didn’t. He did something very different. He out-Pujara’ed Pujara. He backed his defensive technique to the hilt. He did not show an ounce of frustration at missing out on balls, which he would normally send crashing down to the boundary.
He killed off any desire to attack if there was the slightest possibility of risk involved. As a captain, he wanted his batsmen to grind down in the second innings and eke out a score that would give his bowlers a defendable target. He is a naturally aggressive batsman. But the captain in him wanted him to bat according to the match situation.
Statistically, this match may be seen as a failure for Kohli, the batsman. But go beyond statistics, and you will find that this innings of his is no less valuable than any of his innumerable match-winning hundreds.
In some ways, this innings reminded an old-timer of Sachin Tendulkar’s double hundred at Sydney in the 2004 series in which he played no shot outside the off-stump, as he had got out playing on the off side in many of his previous innings.
Like that Sydney knock of Sachin, this little gem of an innings by Kohli too had written self-control all over it. An unmistakable sign of true grit and greatness.
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