Virat Kohli was on 96 when Australia took the second new ball on day 3 of the Perth Test. The Indian skipper was facing Mitchell Starc and he wasted no time in driving a full ball down to the long-off fence to bring up his 25th century. It was his sixth in Australia and it equalled Sachin Tendulkar’s feat. The amazing thing about the knock, he had gotten it in half the time as Tendulkar. His 25th century was just in his 127th innings, behind only Sir Donald Bradman who took just 68 innings. His gesture after reaching the century was symbolic. He took off his helmet, pointed out to the bat, motioned with his gloves indicating, “My bat does all the talking.” Indeed, in overseas Tests in 2018, his bat has done all the talking.
In 2018, Kohli’s bat has done the talking in South Africa, England and Australia, making him the first Asian batsman to achieve this feat. His average in South Africa is brilliant. The series against England where he overcame James Anderson and scored close to 600 runs ended the debate as to whether he could perform in all conditions. On a difficult, grassy wicket in Perth, Kohli’s knock and the stroke to bring up his milestone has cemented his reputation as one of the best in the world. It is poignant that Kohli sealed his class in Perth.
In 1992, 26 years before this Kohli masterpiece, Sachin Tendulkar played a knock at the old WACA stadium in Perth which made him a towering force in the years to come. It was the vintage WACA, having pace, bounce, Fremantle doctor and fast bowler clocking high speeds. Tendulkar went on to make 114. In that Perth Test of 1992, Tendulkar was established as the gold standard of Indian batsmanship. In 2018, Kohli’s 123 has provided batsmen the template in difficult conditions.
India were facing an uphill struggle when Kohli walked in. Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc were getting swing, both in the air and off the deck. KL Rahul and Murali Vijay were cleaned up by brilliant deliveries. The situation demanded the best from Kohli. The intent was signalled when he straight drove Hazlewood to the long off fence. Three more boundaries off the same bowler followed and he was in the zone now.
Australia realised it and they pulled the length back. Before the series, many analysts had said the best way to get Kohli out was to frustrate him and dry up his scoring. For the next 22 overs, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon dried up the boundaries and Kohli was forced to dig deep. In those 22 overs, Kohli had weathered a storm where bowlers were getting appreciable movement and turn from the wicket. Despite being beaten a lot of times, the Indian skipper did not flinch in his focus.
The pressure resulted in Pujara’s dismissal, but Kohli, aided by some positive play from Ajinkya Rahane, got another boundary to notch up his fifty. Taking minimal risks, Kohli moved serenely to the 80s. It seemed he had meticulously watched Pujara grind down the Australian bowlers in Adelaide where his application was top notch. In Perth, Kohli added his touch to Pujara’s method.
The influence of Edgbaston
In 2018, Kohli was intent on making a statement in England and he did it in Edgbaston. Against James Anderson and the moving ball, Kohli survived two dropped chances. Anderson continued to trouble Kohli but he held on. It was the same method of bloody-minded determination that helped Kohli exorcise the ghosts of the 2014 disaster. In a way, Kohli’s 149 on a difficult Edgbaston wicket laid the blueprint for his success in Perth, where he held on and did not sway in his focus on a different but difficult pitch.
The debate on whether Kohli is the best batsman in all conditions ended when he conquered England by the sheer weight of his 593 runs. In Perth, Kohli’s classic knock has sealed this fact: Kohli is the Greatest of All Time. Period!