Dubai: Virat Kohli got the most-awaited hundred in international cricket as he reached the elusive three-figure mark after 1020 days to set up India’s massive 101-run win over Afghanistan and lighten up the dead rubber in the Asia Cup here on Thursday.
Kohli struck a high-quality 122 not out off 61 balls for his 71st international hundred to take India to 212 for two after Afghanistan put India in to bat.
Perhaps still smarting from their heartbreaking loss to Pakistan the night before, Afghanistan were blown away by a top-class spell of swing bowling from Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who ended up with career-best figures of five wickets for four runs in 24 balls, including 20 dot deliveries.
With the conditions aiding his strength, Bhuvneshwar got the ball to move both ways at will, leaving the opposition in shambles at 21 for six. Their innings ended at 111 for eight in 20 overs.
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However, the night belonged to Kohli who warmed a billion hearts with a special innings.
His unbeaten effort off 61 balls got him his first hundred since November 2019 and 71st overall, equalling Ricky Ponting’s tally of international centuries. He is now only behind Sachin Tendulkar in the all-time list. It was also Kohli’s maiden ton in the shortest format.
With Rohit Sharma being rested for India’s final game of the tournament, stand-in skipper K L Rahul (62 off 41) and Kohli shared an entertaining 119 off 76 balls for the opening wicket.
Kohli started toying with the field and bowlers towards the end of the innings, enough indication that he was back to his best. The knock from Rahul was his most confident one ever since he came back from injury.
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The openers played brilliantly against the spinners, including Rashid Khan (0-33), an area they needed to address heading into the T20 World Cup.
It was vintage Kohli on display as he stepped out to the spinners, pierced the field perfectly and even played a rare sweep shot.
That sweep shot came in the sixth over bowled by Mujeeb Ur Rehman. The next ball he came down the track to hit a straight six.
The former India captain also got lucky on his way to a memorable hundred as he was dropped in the deep off Mohammad Nabi in the eight over.
With India at 87 for no loss in 10 overs and Kohli on song, India looked set for a massive total.
It was raining boundaries in the last five overs as Kohli reached the elusive three figure mark with a crisp pull shot off pacer Fareed Ahmed. He took his helmet off, hugged his teammate Rishabh Pant and smiled in disbelief before kissing his necklace as part of his celebration.
He ended the innings in style by smashing two sixes and a four off Fazalhaq Farooqi to push India past 200. The disdain with which he hammered the bowlers and his nimble feet movement showed ‘King Kohli’ was well and truly back.
Another stroke that displayed Kohli’s supreme confidence was when he stepped out to loft the wily Rashid for a maximum over deep midwicket.
Kohli is no stranger to the opening position and after his sensational effort, the case for keeping him at the top alongside Rohit has also been opened.
It was a clinical display from India in their final game of the Super 4s but their pre-mature exit from another multi-team tournament has raised more questions ahead of the T20 World Cup starting next month.
India’s constant chopping and changing in the playing eleven and lack of bowling depth hurt them in the continental event.
With the series against Australia and South Africa lined up before the ICC event Down Under, the Indian think tank has a lot left to do.