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Kohli steps out of the realms of normalcy to essay Eden classic

Lesson 18 from the Virat Kohli school of celebrating centuries BCCI

Sometimes, when Virat Kohli bats well, he doesn't give you a whole lot to talk about. Sometimes, at the top of his game, he seems to score hundreds on autopilot, flowing along more or less unimpeded, thanks to his robust technique and the soundness of the choices he makes, one ball after another.

In the early part of his innings at Eden Gardens on Monday, if you were only watching him and none of the action from the other end, you may have thought you were watching a regulation Kohli knock.

Sure, he was beaten a few times by the seaming ball, but these were good balls on a green pitch with cracks that had opened up under two days of sun. Sure, he reached out at a couple of wide ones, but that's the one instinct he is yet to master, the part of his game that bares his vulnerabilities and makes him a little more interesting to watch.

Otherwise, it was classic, solid Kohli. Boring Kohli. There, I've said it. Boring in the best possible way, but boring nonetheless.

Yeah, Virat, we know that shuffle across the stumps, and that leg-side tuck off the hip, followed by that head-down sprint to the other end. We know that shadow-drive you play right after you've hit one to mid-off, a shadow-drive that tells the fielder, "next time, I'll close my bat face just so, or open it just so, or hit it just that bit later, and give you no chance."

We know the newly acquired tricks - the late dab off the offspinner, the square-cut off the fast bowler - and we know the very fundamentals. The bat-tap as the bowler begins running in, the second bat-tap just as he leaps into his pre-delivery jump. That trigger movement, back foot across, followed by front foot across, and the stillness when the bowler releases. We know all those things.

Events at the other end, however, cast the normalcy of Kohli's batting in a different light. When he walked in, India's first-innings tormenter Suranga Lakmal was turning into India's second-innings tormenter, adding another twist to a Test match that already contained an absurd number of twists for one so beset by bad weather and bad light.

India had turned a first-innings deficit of 122 into a lead of 70 in only 44.1 overs, when Lakmal tore through KL Rahul's attempted on-drive with inward movement off the seam. That brought Kohli to the crease. After a third-wicket partnership of 21, he watched from the non-striker's end as Lakmal sent back two more batsmen in one over. First, extra bounce and a bit of away seam to catch Cheteshwar Pujara by surprise. Then the perfect sequence of deliveries to Ajinkya Rahane: bouncer, another short lifter, and an outswinger, followed by a slightly fuller in-ducker. Perhaps influenced by the three previous deliveries, Rahane moved across his stumps but didn't come forward, and by the time he could bring his bat across to try and flick into the leg side, Lakmal was already up in appeal for lbw.

This was top-class seam bowling, and Sri Lanka's support cast was making sure they weren't letting Lakmal down. Lahiru Gamage, tall and tireless, bowled 11 overs on the trot, hitting the deck, getting a few to bounce awkwardly or move just a bit off the seam, conceding only 29 - this after giving away two fours in his first over of the day.

Ravindra Jadeja, promoted to No. 6 for his left-handedness, to try and upset the rhythm of Lakmal and Gamage, managed the rare feat on this Eden pitch, of getting out to a spinner as Dilruwan Perera somehow found extra bounce.

Dasun Shanaka, meanwhile, only medium-fast and prone to sending down the occasional half-volley, got the ball to wobble around just enough to remain a threat. One wobbled in and bowled R Ashwin. The other wobbled away, and Wriddhiman Saha spooned it to cover.

While all this happened, Kohli remained at the crease, batting normally, looking neither in sublime touch nor troubled by any bowler, or line of attack, or quirk of the conditions. When Saha was dismissed, Kohli was batting on 58 off 93 balls. In his time at the crease, India's other batsmen, and extras, had scored 31 for 5.

India were now seven down, and led by 159. The new ball, Lakmal's favourite toy, was due three deliveries after Saha's dismissal. Sri Lanka took it immediately. If they could get through the lower order quickly, there was just enough time left in the day for them to dream a little.

It would still need them to bat out of their skins, though, because Kohli, batting with that eerie normalcy, had moved India towards something approaching safety.

All through, Sri Lanka had set cautious fields to him - a wide slip, a gully, a catching cover every now and then, but almost always fielders protecting the square boundaries. Now, even though they had the new ball, the position of the game asked them to remain respectful of him. An edge off the first ball of the 81st over, which Kohli kept down with soft hands, ran away to the third man boundary, and a fielder promptly appeared there.

But you only have so many fielders. One of the signs of how much Kohli's batting has evolved over the years is his range of off-side drives. He has always been able to drive to the right of the cover fielder, but now he has expanded his game to be able to open his bat-face and drive to his left as well. Twice, in successive new-ball overs, he did this off Shanaka and Lakmal, once through squarish cover and once through point.

The ball after the square-drive, Kohli survived an lbw decision on review - a wide grin appeared on his face when he looked up at the replay screen, which showed an Ultra-Edge spike as the ball passed his inside edge.

Against all three of those balls - the successful drives and the successfully reviewed lbw - Kohli had played with bat well in front of his body, indicating that he was now stepping outside the box of normalcy and looking for quick runs. A new layer of possibilities enveloped the action in the middle. Was Kohli looking to declare? What sort of lead was he looking at? How much time did he want to give his bowlers?

Two balls after the review came the shot of Kohli's innings, a straight drive that employed a controlled turn of wrists to send a full, fourth-stump outswinger racing between umpire and non-striker. And then, in the next over, against Shanaka, came another contender: a bottom-handed whip to dismiss a ball of similar line to the midwicket boundary.

Rattled, Shanaka sent down a short ball down the leg side that ran away for four byes. In four overs with the new ball, India had scored 33 and extended their lead to 192. The Eden Gardens, a stadium that has seen so many Test-match twists that correlation must surely imply causation, was now roaring. Just a fifth of its seats were occupied on this Monday afternoon, but that's close to capacity in a lot of grounds around the world.

A drinks break arrived, with India leading by 199. They surely wouldn't bat on for too much longer. Three overs and four balls was all it would be, enough time for Kohli to launch a couple of big, clean, inside-out sixes, over long-off and extra-cover, and bring up his 18th Test hundred. In his time at the crease, he had scored 104 off 119 balls while six wickets fell at the other end for 56 runs.

With each hundred he has scored, Kohli's celebrations have grown more temperate, but he now revealed something of the early, angry, sweary Kohli when he met Eden's roar with a roar of his own. This wasn't just a normal Kohli hundred. This was special.