Whoever said anger is not the solution to a problem has not seen Virat Kohli bat.
Dismissed cheaply in the last couple of games, Kohli returned to runs in devastating fashion as he stuck a pitchfork into Sri Lanka’s already aching heart with his 29th One-Day International hundred at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo on Thursday (August 31).
If Kohli’s breathtaking 131 from 96 balls was not enough, Rohit Sharma’s finesse proved just as effective as the Mumbaikar cruised to his second consecutive century, complementing his unbeaten 124 in Pallekele with 104 .
As the second-wicket duo added 219 runs from 168 balls, India amassed 375 for 5 in the fourth ODI of the five-match series. The bowlers then tied Sri Lanka up in knots and then bowled them out for 207 to make it 4-0 following the 168-run hammering. Angelo Mathews’s 70 was no more than a crumb for the home side.
With India’s top order asserting its dominance, MS Dhoni did not get as much batting time as one would have liked. It was, after all, his 300th ODI, but the former skipper would not have minded an easy day in the office.
Batting on this track and against a bowling side bereft of ideas, Dhoni could have done serious damage had he come in earlier. But 49 not out – his third unbeaten innings on the trot – from 42 balls was not bad at all.
After Kohli won his sixth toss of the tour, he chose to bat and give his batsmen the opportunity to set a target. Still in experimental mode, India brought in Manish Pandey, Shardul Thakur and Kuldeep Yadav for Kedar Jadhav, Bhuvneswar Kumar and Yuzvendra Chahal respectively.
Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit, the opening pair, has been in exceptional enough touch, individually at least. The trend of at least one of them giving Sri Lanka a headache continued as Rohit played himself without having to work too hard for his runs, even after India lost Dhawan for four.
Rohit always picked the right balls to go after. Kohli did not pick and choose. He bludgeoned absolutely everything.
Even when he was walking out to the middle, it was obvious that he was determined to put an end to what only someone like him could consider a bad patch. After an unbeaten 82 in the opener, he was out for four and three in the next two games. From the two pre-match practice sessions, it was clear that he was not happy with how he was striking the ball. Spurts of anger were followed by wild swings of the blade.
Not on Thursday, though. The fire burned within and those around him felt the heat.
Eight balls into his innings, Kohli looked a bit jittery, searching for that one ball to put away. When it came, a length delivery with plenty of width from Vishwa Fernando, he leaned in and belted it to the extra-cover fence. If he was not too happy with that because the bat shook in his hand, he followed it up with a drive down the ground, right off the middle this time, past mid-on.
The shot that gave a peek into what was to come arrived a ball later. Walking across his stumps, he flicked a ball on the rise and saw it race to the wide long-on fence. Three fours in three balls in the fourth over, and he was up and running.
Murmurs of a massive target were already doing the rounds and they gained voice as Kohli and Rohit looked in tremendous touch. The only chance Sri Lanka had of snipping the partnership early came in the eighth over, when Kohli nudged just wide of square-leg and set off for a single. There was no run and Rohit sent his partner back. If Kohli had not thrown in a full-length dive, his innings would have ended then and there. Sri Lanka would not be so fortunate.
Kohli went to unleash his power, while Rohit picked away from the other end, turning this into an unrelenting combination. The only evident flaw was in their running between the wickets, and even that settled into a good rhythm with time. It was helped by the fact that a bulk of their runs came in boundaries.
Kohli smashed 17 fours and a six. Rohit creamed three sixes and 11 fours.
Lasith Malinga, Sri Lanka’s stand-in skipper, rotated his bowlers rapidly, not allowing even one of them to settle in. Even Akila Dananjaya, coming off eight wickets in the two previous games, bowled only two overs in his first spell.
None of that mattered to Kohli or Rohit. They were offered an inexperienced attack, and they feasted on it. Kohli, who reached his 100 from 76 balls with an incredible flick-pull off Milinda Siriwardana, carted the bowlers around. The standout shot came off Fernando as Kohli stood tall and cross-batted a not-so short delivery over the long-off fence. He did not even look at the ball go over the rope.
Kohli’s innings came to an end in the 30th over, Malinga’s wait for his 300th ODI wicket finally coming to an end when the Indian captain picked out sweeper cover.
After Kohli’s departure, India lost a string of wickets, the most significant being Rohit nicking Mathews to Niroshan Dickwella, the wicketkeeper. That was Mathews’s second wicket in two balls after the medium pacer had dismissed Hardik Pandya earlier.
Then came Dhoni, at No.7. With Pandey (50 not out from 42 balls) at the other end, he played second fiddle at the start, only smashing them when there was width on offer.
Dhoni did give Sri Lanka a chance in the 48th over when he top-edged Malinga to Dilshan Munaweera. The debutant, one of two for Sri Lanka alongside Malinda Pushpakumara, put down a sitter at point.
Malinga had his head in the palms of his hands. He has seen enough of Dhoni to know what could follow. No. 7 did not disappoint. But Sri Lanka did, again.
In the face of the daunting score, the hosts were reduced to 68 for 4 including two shouts for catches down leg by Dhoni that were won on review, and the run-out of Kusal Mendis, backing up too far. Mathews and Siriwardana (39) offered some resistance. The fifth-wicket pair added 73 before Pandya scalped Siriwardana, caught behind. Mathews stuck to his guns, compiling a vintage 70 from 80 balls much to the delight of the in-house papare band.
Even after Mathews’s dismissal by Axar Patel in the 38th over, the band played on, but by then, the fat lady had already started to sing.