There were three phases to Virat Kohli’s hundred. There was the bit where he kept being beaten by the bowlers; there was the bit where the ball wasn’t doing quite so much but he was still shaken up; and there was the bit where everything went back to normal and he played like he was going to make a hundred all along.
Far and away the most interesting of the three was the bit where he was shaken up. This is because it didn’t particularly seem to exist.
Have you ever had a near miss on the road?
Like a scary near miss. Someone pulling out on you or moving into your lane on the motorway without looking. Maybe some absolute knobsack in a 4×4 towing a trailer went to overtake you while you were flying downhill on your bike but then instead of actually passing, he just sat there alongside you, trapping you within an 18 inch wide strip of tarmac as you both approached a bend at speed.
Something like that happens and you know about it. Your body carries a memory of it and if anything remotely similar occurs within a certain span of time, your vital systems take a shortcut directly to full-on panic.
This is quite often what happens to batsmen. It’s not so much the one ball with their name on it that gets them as the accumulation of all the balls with very similar names on them. Misses, edges, wrong shots – even just failing to score – eventually batsmen get nervy and then they do something stupid. Maybe not even stupid. Maybe just something less than excellent because that can quite often be enough to get you out in a Test match.
Improving his odds
Doing something wrong (or not quite so well) because of a bunch of stuff that happened previously is one of three main ways in which batsmen get out. (The two that bookend it are unplayable deliveries and getting too cocky.)
Kohli seems to have all but negated the effects of near-misses though; the reverberations just don’t seem to touch him. This is pretty weird because getting freaked out by things that almost result in your (cricket) death is a very natural human response. The elite level of obliviousness being displayed by Kohli is therefore almost literally inhuman.
Forget about it
People talk about shrugging off those moments when you almost lose your wicket, but while many batsmen appear to do so, few move from a close call to complete conviction that it’s going to be their day quite like Kohli.
Such a move requires a great fat tree trunk of confidence; the kind that’s fed by thousands of little tendrilly roots, so that if you cut a few off, it barely even matters. It perhaps also demands [looks shiftily from left to right, lowers voice to a whisper] a certain amount of delusion.
Delusion is very much a strength in sport. If things fall your way, it can be rebranded as confidence after the fact, whereas lack of confidence will pretty much always see you fall before luck can even become a factor. Certainty is good, no matter where you get it from.
This seems to us to be the area where Kohli has an advantage over most people. He’s not invincible. He has weaknesses and periods where he’s vulnerable. It’s just that immediately after he’s threatened, he denies that it ever happened with such absolute certainty that he even convinces himself.