After you have spent the vast majority of the Indian Premier League (IPL) season rooted to the foot of the table you are perhaps used to getting a bit of a kicking from your opponents. What the Kings XI Punjab got in Bengaluru on Wednesday night was the cricketing equivalent on a knockout in the first round of a heavyweight boxing match. If there had been a trainer in the Punjabi corner, the towel would have been thrown in long before Virat Kohli cruised to his fourth hundred of the 2016 edition of the league.
What Kohli is in the middle of right now is the longest sustained period of T20 form that anyone has ever achieved. Since the start of 2016, Kohli has scored 1,480 runs in T20 cricket with four hundreds, 12 fifties and a strike rate of a shade under 150 runs per 100 balls faced. Never in the 13-year history of Twenty20 cricket has a batsman combined that level of attacking intent with that level of consistency.
It is often said that when you get yourself into a fine run of form you need to abuse it. Right now Kohli is treating his form like a toy a dog has just ripped to pieces, pulled out the stuffing and is dry humping it in its bed. Every single drop of possible runs has been squeezed out of the sponge and then the 27-year-old has dipped it back in the bucket and done it again.
He made his fourth hundred in 13 IPL innings, his highest ever score in the format, in a game that had been reduced to 15 overs a side and no one watching at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium or any of those watching on television around the world would have been in the least bit surprised.
It was made all the more remarkable when you considered that he had stitches in his left hand after tearing the webbing of his fingers in his last match. It was still just so easy, but that doesn’t mean that the game is now easy for batsmen.
Most games of T20 cricket are still producing a score of around 165 per innings, most batsman are averaging between 25 and 30 in the format, most players are not scoring the best part of 1000 runs in an IPL season, but most people aren’t Virat Kohli. For a long time it seemed that Kohli would become the greatest white ball batsman of all time. Now he is the greatest white ball batsman of all time. Assuming One Day Internationals are played over the next decade, at a similar rate, Kohli will smash Sachin Tendulkar’s records in the format and he won’t even struggle in the process.
No one has been better at scoring runs in limited overs cricket. Maybe this is hyperbole but it is impossible to remember anyone finding it as straight forward to win games in T20 and 50-over cricket than Kohli. He is the master of this craft and while others may score quicker or may play more spectacular innings he has now found a method that is close to unstoppable. Even his Achilles heel of the swinging ball in England hasn’t stopped him making an ODI ton in that country.
Against KXIP, he opened the batting with Chris Gayle, the most successful T20 batsman in the format’s history, and he outscored him for the majority of the time that they were together. The Kings XI Punjab bowlers were powerless to stop the onslaught that came their way, but perhaps they knew their job was to be on the receiving end of this battering. When Kyle Abbott dismissed his South African compatriot AB de Villiers he apologised for getting him out, admitting in a pitch side interview that the fans had come to watch AB bat, not watch him bowl.
It is the hunger of Kohli that is so impressive. He may well have made his highest ever T20 score but as he miscued a ball that was caught at long off, he looked distraught. Even after scoring 113 runs in a rain-reduced 15-over match, he felt he had left runs out there on the pitch unscored. A crime of monumental proportions.
Gayle made 73 runs from 30 balls but it was a sideshow to Kohli and his relentless pursuit of yet more T20 runs. By the end of the innings Kohli had become the first man to make 4,000 runs in the IPL, breezing past Suresh Raina who had never missed a match until last week. He already has 865 runs in the 2016 with power to add. It is difficult to imagine anyone ever passing that mark in the future and by the end of the season Kohli could be well on his way to 1000 runs if his team make the knockout stages.
This article is supposed to be about Kings XI Punjab, but it is difficult to know what to say about them. They could have been given their full 20 overs to score the target that was set for them in 15 and still they wouldn’t have got anywhere near it. Perhaps Kohli should have shown his largesse and confidence by telling the Kings XI that they could have their full allocation.
The Kings XI bowlers had no answers for the questions that they were asked, in fact at times it seemed like Kohli had given them the wrong exam paper and taken away their calculators.
Potentially, Kohli has four more innings in this tournament and he is 135 runs short of 1,000. My money is on him getting there.