Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli of India in action against Afghanistan during the DP World Asia Cup game at the Dubai International Stadium on September 8, 2022. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

I told you. Yes, I’m gloating about my prediction. Ahead of the Asia Cup, I had written in this column that Virat Kohli would find his form in Dubai. Now that he has scored a century, I have every reason to brag about my prediction.

Kohli’s 71st century in international cricket came 1,020 days after the previous one. Which means his century drought lasted 34 months or nearly three years. That’s a long, lean spell for a modern-day batsman.

Lean spell, really? A century drought is not a lean spell. Runs have been coming; there were half centuries too. But there was no century. So what? As long as runs are coming, it should be fine. No, not in cricket.

Cricket is a game mired in statistics. Data on runs scored and wickets claimed have been around for a long time. Not just that. Catches, stumpings, overs, maidens, and so on. You can find all of them in Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.

Why centuries matter

When numbers are crunched, successes and failures too are seen through the prism of figures. Centuries and five-wicket hauls are highly valued. Never mind the aggregate. Not many remember them. But ask any Indian how many centuries Sunil Gavaskar or Sachin Tendulkar has scored, and the chances of getting correct answers are very high. They might even know of Don Bradman’s 29 tons in Tests. In case you didn’t know, Gavaskar struck 34 in Tests, and Tendulkar has an astonishing 100 international centuries, including 51 in Tests.

Centuries have a charm about them. There’s something magical about the three-figure mark. Something that make the nineties nervous for batsmen. Little wonder, it’s revered in all formats and all levels of cricket.

A century was required to make Kohli’s return to form official. He was the leading run-getter behind Pakistan’s Mohammad Rizwan before the Afghanistan game. But that wasn’t enough to declare that Kohli has rediscovered his scoring touch. It required a century. And the century came against Afghanistan, making him the leading scorer.

Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli of India reacts after reaching his century against Afghanistan during the DP World Asia Cup game at the Dubai International Stadium on September 8, 2022. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

The century even surprised Kohli. He least expected it in a T20 game, a format where he hadn’t scored a ton. He needed it. More so since the World Cup is around the corner.

Relief was writ large on his beaming face. The eyes weren’t smouldering. No punches in the air. No leaps in the air either. No animated wave of the bat. Just a plain, almost beatific smile. A smile that grew broader as the feeling sunk in. A bat salute to the teammates and a kiss to his ring bearing his wife’s initials followed.

Soon he got back to work. At the crease, he carved Fazalhaq Farooqi for two sixes and a four as India galloped past the 200-mark. A century against Afghanistan is no big deal, said his critics on social media. A war of words erupted on social media platforms. A century is a century irrespective of the opposition, said his supporters.

His critics got it wrong. This Afghan attack is not to be dismissed lightly. Ask the Pakistanis who got a fright at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium the previous day. Leggie Rashid Khan is the best white-ball bowler in the world, Mujib ur Rahman can win matches with his mystery blend of off-spin, leg-spin, googlies and carrom ball, and Mohammad Nabi’s off-breaks have earned him contracts in franchise cricket worldwide.

Now, this is an attack that strikes fear in the opposition. That’s in white-ball cricket. Left-arm seamer Farooqi has turned out to be a find for the Afghans. He’s been taking wickets and has found support from Naveen ul Haq and Fareed Ahmed. So, to dismiss the Afghan attack as pedestrian would be sheer injustice.

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Well, the Afghan players may have been tired after Wednesday’s emotionally-draining energy-sapping encounter with Pakistan. But Afghans are a hardy lot. They are tough as nails. To paraphrase captain Nabi’s words, they always fight like tigers. Always give 100 per cent. Against India, despite the carnage on Thursday, Rashid returned figures of 0/33 and Mujib 0/29. They were not taken to the cleaners.

None of that takes the sheen of Kohli’s ton. Critics will always find something to carp about. Nobody talks about Tendulkar’s hundredth ton, which came against Bangladesh. That would be not nice. 

For now, let’s celebrate Kohli’s return to form. He’s such a joy to watch.