Virat Kohli is ecstatic after completing his century

Raging against fate, the machine, and everything else, Kohli took India to 321 in under 37 overs

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20 Greatest ODIs: No. 15

Virat Kohli's fifth-gear classic

At the end of an ill-starred tour of Australia came an ODI innings in T20 time

Sidharth Monga  |  

India vs Sri Lanka, CB Series, Hobart, 2012

India won by seven wickets

It didn't just suddenly happen on a cold, grey, windy Hobart evening. It had been building up in cricket for at least five years, and in the Indian team for a few months.

For a while till then, this kind of match had been a freight train coming: just around the bend. International T20s were six years old. Batters were finding liberation in the longer formats too. There had been a successful chase of 434 in 2006. Yet total blowouts of 300-plus chases were still rare.

There had been 346 targets of 300 or above till then, out of which 43 had been chased down, only one of them in under 40 overs. Numbers and probability suggested there was no need to shed conservatism batting first, but it was apparent batters now had the tools to take down big targets.

A hurting, defeated, frustrated Indian side found themselves in just the right circumstances. Just the previous year they had won the ODI World Cup. Since then they had been on a treadmill of defeat. A whole tour of England with no win: four Tests, one T20I and three ODIs lost. A whole tour of Australia, struggling to keep it together. A whitewash in Tests followed by a third-best showing in the ODI tri-series left them frayed and mentally exhausted.

Then, just to cruelly tease them more, a carrot was dangled. If they won their last match with a bonus point - that is, if they won inside 40 overs or kept the opposition to 80% of their score - there was a remote chance they could make the finals and still salvage something on the long, arduous tour.

Virat Kohli responded more combatively than most. Kicking and screaming, he refused to accept what the cricketing gods seemed to have ordained. In Sydney he flipped hecklers the bird and was caught on camera doing so. In Perth, he damn near broke down, asking why the scrutiny was only on him. He made 44 and 75 in that game. In Adelaide he became the only centurion for India in the Test series.

By the end of the ODIs, though, even Kohli was feeling exhausted. "It is mentally very tiring," he said. "When you are winning, you can stay on tour for five months. You won't mind a single day. But when you are not doing well as a team, it is really difficult to hold yourself together mentally... I won't say I was not feeling mentally tired or mentally very sad sometimes, but there is no running away from it."

By the time this match came around, Kohli stopped talking cricket to anyone. You can grow sick of each other if you travel together for so long without the desired outcomes. The same faces, the same training, the same results every day. Now he, and India, just wanted to give it a red-hot go with freedom, never mind the results.

Kohli and Raina featured in a partnership where they scored at 13 runs an over

Kohli and Raina featured in a partnership where they scored at 13 runs an over © Associated Press

Sri Lanka, on the other hand, had much more to lose, so they played with conventional wisdom after being put in by India, who had no choice but to chase. In a throwback to older eras, Tillakaratne Dilshan - a modern limited-overs batter, if ever there was one - scored 160 at just under a run a ball, one of only five innings of 150 and above (out of 141) to end in a strike rate of under 100.

Still, 320 was a daunting total going by what had happened in the tri-series until then. Except that, just like Kohli, the stalwarts in the Indian team too decided to play like there was no tomorrow.

What followed was a sensational chase. In an almost empty stadium, the sound of bat on ball echoed furiously over and over again. First when Virender Sehwag laid into Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara. Then when Sachin Tendulkar cut loose. Kohli and Gautam Gambhir "accumulated" 115 in 18.1 overs. Kohli and Suresh Raina plundered 120 in 9.1 overs. When a wicket fell, India responded with a boundary in the same over. This was an example of what was possible if the batters played without fear.

At the heart of it was Kohli, who had admitted to having been intimidated by all the talk about Test cricket - to the extent that he had veered from his natural game. When they were asking for him to be dropped after one failure in the Test series, Kohli reminded himself of the eight ODI hundreds he had already scored. "It can't be a fluke," he said. Now, in his favourite format, he reminded the world of the talent they had on their hands.

This was also perhaps the last time we saw the wild force of nature that Kohli was. He went on to become a more streamlined, more efficient run-machine, with neater hair and a studied beard.

Sixty-two chases of 300 or above have been successful since then, including many comfortable ones, but none so crushing and emphatic.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo