What it is like waking up with Virat Kohli
Just another one-day in the life of the Indian captain. And how he zones into it.
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Virat Kohli wakes up on match day. He says to himself, "Today, I will score my 28th". "Today, I will score my 29th". "Today, I will score my 30th ."
Virat Kohli doesn't wake up like you and I or most cricketers these days. He doesn't get up on the left side of the bed or the right side of the bed; he gets up on the two ends of the pitch. Within seconds of waking up, he has changed from his pyjamas to his batting gear, he is marking his guard.
Virat Kohli, as you've often heard, is in the zone.
What does that mean? Is it just a lazy term used when a sportsperson is on top of his game? Or is it the term that needs little else to be said - you've watched enough sport to know it is what it is and nothing more or less needs to be said: Virat Kohli is in the zone.
Of course, the zone comes with so much more. With many players, it could be that one fine day, the ball is being sucked by the magnetic field of the bat's sweet spot to go where it is ordered to. With Virat Kohli, it started when he said, "Today, I will score my ______ century".
It's hard to say which one it was. His first ODI century came in his 13th innings, it was against Sri Lanka. That was 2009 - before that, Virat knew three half centuries. Two 54s and a 79 not out. It's hard to say how Virat Kohli woke up then, but maybe it was more on the lines of, "Today, I will score a 54".
Eight of his 30 ODI centuries are against them, 11 of his 44 half centuries. Photo: Reuters
After his first ODI century though, in his 173 innings that followed, Virat made a score of 54 only once again. Virat was already working at unlearning the 50s, the 54s to be precise, and make 100s out of them.
The zone-chip wasn't quite in sync; in 2010, it was three ODI tons to seven half centuries. In 2011, it was four tons to eight half centuries. In 2012, it was five tons to three half centuries, Virat Kohli was starting to wake up differently.
Before 2012, Virat had scored only one of his eight ODI centuries against Sri Lanka. In 2012, he scored four against them, and his first against Pakistan.
No denying that Virat wakes up differently when he's playing Sri Lanka - out of the 194 ODIs, 46 are against them, it's like a favourite vacation spot with an inviting buffet service.
Eight of his 30 ODI centuries are against them, 11 of his 44 half centuries. But his batting average only goes up to 59.08 from his career average of 55.75. His strike rate actually dips to 90.74 from 91.72, not that that's much of a dip.
And while it looks all too easy for Virat against Sri Lanka, that's exactly where the perils of being in the perpetual zone crop up - how does he muster the fight in him against a team, when he can quite easily go about it in default mode?
Two back-to-back centuries, 131 and 110*, after the series won 3-0, after two single digit scores. It's similar to his post-match conferences, the questions are often the same, the answers too, often, can be similar - but there is no short cut in his replies, no need to be cute, over-smart, funny. Virat takes the long route, explaining as he would, to a person who either knows nothing or is genuinely interested in what he has to say.
Perhaps, Virat is genuinely interested in saying his part, with utmost earnestness. These usually brief Q&As are seldom brief with Virat.
Here too, Virat is in the zone. It's control over flash. It could be just another ODI in a dead rubber, but for Virat, it is his team that has just whitewashed Sri Lanka 5-0 in the series.
His team that has Rohit Sharma opening the batting. More than any other player in the team, Virat has backed Rohit - possibly because he admires his batsmanship, as he has said on many occasions. Possibly because he knows what Rohit is capable of when he's in the zone.
While Rohit made his ODI debut over a year before Virat, he has played 31 ODIs less than him. And while it is often unkind to compare numbers, it took Rohit more than 100 ODIs to get into his groove.
In his first 103 matches, Rohit's batting average was 32.5, he had scored two centuries. In the next 60 matches, he added 11 centuries, including two doubles, increasing his batting average to 43.46, his strike rate from 75 to 85.
In this period from October 2013-September 2017, Rohit's batting average has been a tad over 60, and he's been striking at nearly 95.
In this series alone, Rohit scored two centuries and a 54 in five games. Who's to say how much of Virat's zone is rubbing off on to his mates?
In the days to follow, Virat Kohli will wake up, and say to himself, "Today, I will bat the best as I can, not play in the air early on in the innings, and try and bat out the 50 overs."
Somehow that translates into, "Today, I will score my 31st century." But it's never that easy. Not even for Virat Kohli.