In many ways, it is futile to contain the implications of Virat Kohli's majestic 71st century into measly words, so take this as a tribute to the moments when he once again managed to sway an entire country to the tune of his bat.
On the afternoon of August 28, with India set to take on Pakistan later in the evening in a blockbuster Asia Cup encounter, I was seated along with 500 people in an auditorium to witness a stand-up act from one of India's most popular names. During some crowd work, the conversations veered every which way and of course, it did not take long for Virat Kohli's name to come up. Before the comedian could venture an opinion, an enthusiastic fan shouted with gusto, 'Today is the day Virat returns, remember me when he scores a century in this tournament.' Right on cue, a few chuckles emanated from the audience and before long, the entire venue echoed in laughter puppeteered by the comedian on stage.
Today, I remember that stranger and everyone else in the room who laughed at him. Including myself. You see, the hallmark of greatness is delivering goals that are fathomed to be beyond your reach. To strive for accomplishments in dimensions beyond approach; to let your talent do the talking for you. For two ominous hours yesterday, the clock was set five years back. Social media didn't gasp for attention every two minutes, for something far greater was occurring in the real world to be boxed in by virtual spheres.
Virat Kohli was batting with ridiculous ease, nay, comfort, stroking the most lucid shots with the control of a circus artist riding a unicycle on a tightly strung rope. Each bowler that took to the jumping crease returned disappointed, exasperated, and almost awed at what they had come up against. Cricket was not meant to look so simple, yet breathtaking and beautiful. The 33-year-old talisman had taken over every screen in the country, every google search, every conversation as eyes stayed glued to the developments in Dubai on what was set to be an ordinary, quiet Thursday evening.
After all, it was just a dead rubber against Afghanistan. India's fate in the Asia Cup had been decided, they would be home before the toss take place in the final on Sunday. Yet, any recollection of the fact seemed to have slipped into a void as long as Virat was on the pitch, almost as if the Asia Cup did not matter anymore because India had earned something far greater. Beyond material count, something ephemeral, even spiritual. But perhaps the little stakes involved made the occasion that much more special for after aeons, the game was all about Kohli once again, and Kohli alone. The spotlight was his as was all the thunder on earth. The whole world tuned in to the spectacle, critics and fans alike, because no one could afford to miss the second coming of a mighty ruler.
The modern urban individual in India has learnt to see cricket as what it is, a sport. Some immersed in its magic believe in the impact it can have beyond the fields and how a sport can renege, reform and redeem society. But in many regions of the country, cricket continues to hold the power of a religion and Kohli remains no less than a deity. A supreme supernatural force destined to make you believe in the power of will, and dedication; to make you aspire to be limitless. The last two and a half years were a ghastly reminder of how the king is still human, a realization that this immortal legend was made of the same stardust as us.
The encounter with Afghanistan thus served as an affirmation that at the end of the day, some are more equal than others. In the modern history of cricket, no other batting great has had as marked a slump as Virat’s. Every logical conclusion, every statistic pointed toward a permanent decline; foreshadowing the 1021-day period would last forever. Thursday was an affirmation that greatness operates beyond ordinary numbers.
You can delay class all you want to, don't even think of denying it.— Sunil Chhetri (@chetrisunil11) September 8, 2022
That ton? Worth it's weight in gold. That smile? Priceless. Shine on, champ. @imVkohli
In typical Virat fashion, the century came when we least expected it. The Delhite has always had a habit of defying expectations, almost as if mocking them, deriving a cunning happiness from succeeding just when all odds are stacked against him. Be it the epic in Hobart where he traumatised Sri Lanka's bowling attack with the most ruthless brand of batting Down Under, the 183 against Pakistan a decade ago enthralling over a billion people or the desire to power India past a target of 360 against the to-be world champions Australia. The batsman has built his career on always chasing the elusive and dreaming of the impossible, reminiscent of the greatest athletes to have walked the planet.
Virat Kohli’s stature in the game was once again confirmed last night as legends of the game took to Twitter to express joy on seeing the man himself return to form and unleash his vintage brand of cricket; signed off by a seal of approval from his fiercest rivals across the border. How many times will you hear opponents taking solace from the fact that their heads fell to no other player but the bat of Virat, implying it was inevitable, unstoppable and just a shade desirable? Because that is exactly what Nizakat Khan seemed to do after Hong Kong submitted to India, as did the Pakistan players when they met the enigma before the tournament began to wish him luck. Kohli's poor form was not just a loss for India, it was a loss for cricket. Generational talents come, well, once in a generation, and to witness circumstance keep someone such from fulfilling their potential in a field you have dedicated your life to can be panful.
In practical terms, yesterday's inning raises a host of key questions for the immediate future. Should Virat Kohli open in next month's World Cup? A superior average and strike rate when facing the new ball off the go seem to suggest so, much like the 122*(61) balls. It allows Kohli to dictate and set the pace for the game while continuing to exploit the powerplay with his masterful strokes. He is seemingly in better form than KL Rahul and can switch gears easier.
But let's keep all questions aside for a day. For now, let's just take the time to sink into the reality of what took place yesterday and absorb the moment in all its grandeur. The 71 has come home and it came with a bang. The wait is over, and the when has an answer. The if has been scratched off for good. All of a sudden, the world feels like a better place. Perhaps King Kohli is back, perhaps he never scores a century again.
Regardless, I can be at peace, as can the many who kept faith when all seemed lost. Remember, legacy is written as much in the hearts as in the history books. No matter what happens next, I'll always be lucky enough to say I lived the moment when a legend decided to embark upon the final phase of his career, perhaps his one last dance in the international arena.
The great is back @imVkohli— Hassan Ali 🇵🇰 (@RealHa55an) September 8, 2022