Kohli’s first Twenty20 century came against Gujarat Lions last month, albeit in a losing cause as they chased down the target of 181 with six wickets in hand. In the Royal Challengers’s last away game against Sunrisers Hyderabad, Kohli was dismissed for 14 off 17 in a stiff chase of 195, which he had at the back of his mind when his side took on Rising Pune Supergiants.
“With the game we played before this and the one in Hyderabad, we were struggling to defend scores,” said Kohli after the seven-wicket win. “We had a chance to chase one down and I backed myself to go out there and go for the target; make sure I was there until the end and try and win the game for the team and contribute as much as I can. In the last game in Hyderabad, I couldn’t do that. I was very disappointed and it hurt me a lot because I understand that if you want your team to do a certain thing, you have to go out there and do it yourself first. I think, I had that at the back of my head. That came through today in terms of wanting to stay till the end and finish the game.
“I didn’t look at my score on the scoreboard, I looked at how many runs and balls are there and what the difference is and how many runs we need to score in which over. In that process, if you get a milestone, it feels sweet. In an hour or two, when I realise actually what happened then it will feel far sweeter, but the ultimate target was the victory because of how hurt we were after the last game.”
After one win in four away games before making their way back to Bangalore, the home side were handed a crushing five-wicket defeat in the last game at the hands of Kolkata Knight Riders after Andre Russell and Yusuf Pathan helped chase down 186 after being 69 for 1 at the halfway stage.
“We needed a good win like this to pull ourselves up again and get our confidence especially given the kind of day we had in the field. It’s very easy to lose your cool and easy to get carried away and get frustrated. You’d rather take that frustration and turn it into being determined to put in 20 per cent extra on the field,” said Kohli.
The skipper’s score, however, only contributed part to the team’s winning cause. KL Rahul at the top, whilst sharing an opening stand of 94, played an able supporting role to Kohli after which Shane Watson’s 13-ball 36 cameo tilted the equation in the hosts’ favour – something which Kohli acknowledged. In an innings of an unbeaten 108 off 58 – that comprised of eight fours and as many as seven sixes – it was mostly about exploiting the covers as Kohli scored as many as 63 runs in the region.
“It’s about understanding what lines the bowlers are trying to bowl at you. We need to get into the bowler’s head. The pressure was on Rajat Bhatia at that stage not to give a boundary away. I understood that, so you have to back yourself enough to know the ball is full enough to pierce long off and covers.
“It doesn’t matter how much gap they have in between them, even if it’s 20m, you need to hit it well enough to beat the two fielders. I think it’s all about being convinced that you can hit in that area and get the result you want to. If you’re half-hearted, then the ball actually never goes for a boundary if you’re looking to hit both sides of the wicket. I think, I let my natural onside play take over,” he added.
With the fielding being as slipshod on the day, it reinforced why the choice between fit fielders and ones not upto the mark was an easy one to make. Sarfaraz Ahmed, despite a couple of good contributions at the start of the tournament was left out in favour of Sachin Baby and Kohli had no qualms admitting why.
“He understands the areas he needs to work on as far as the fitness and fielding is concerned,” said Kohli. “You can’t afford to have too many guys in the field who are not up to the mark with their speed. This format is really fast and you need guys who are fit and who can get to the ball quickly and save you 5-6 runs every game. I think Sachin in that aspect is very committed and fit. Me, as a captain, would any day go with a player who is giving me 120 per cent effort in the field and be committed to every ball that he fields,” Kohli added.
Adam Zampa, the Australian legspinner, who made his IPL debut for the Supergiants, witnessed Kohli’s masterclass at the other end and didn’t find enough words to describe it. Zampa, who struck in his second over, accounting for both, KL Rahul and AB de Villiers, had figures of 2 for 17 after three, but finished with figures of 2 for 35 after Kohli took him for 18 in his final over.
“This ground is always very hard to defend on – small ground and very fast outfield,” conceded a disappointed Zampa. “Virat kohli at the moment is batting like a machine. He obviously never rushes it at the start, gives himself time and then hits the ball all around the ground, 360 degrees, so that’s what makes it very hard to bowl to. You could have a deep cover and three points and, more than likely, that he would hit it through point. It’s always very hard to tie him down and make him make a mistake,” he added.