Like it was with his 48th hundred in Pune late last week against Bangladesh, the race towards Kohli’s century on Sunday injected excitement to the final stretch of India’s chase. With four overs left, Kohli needed to score 18 out of the 19 remaining runs for victory against New Zealand.
It was around this point that he made a real dash, swatting Trent Boult in front of square for six and backing it up with a bullet drive down the ground for four. When Ravindra Jadeja offered a copybook forward defence off the last ball to keep Kohli on strike for the next over, there was wild cheer from a capacity crowd as well as a few chuckles in the team dug out.
Three nights previously, he walloped a six off Nasum Ahmed to not just get to his hundred but also seal victory over Bangladesh. It seemed as if he was set to do it again but, on 95, with just five needed to cross the target of 274, Kohli dragged a Matt Henry slower ball to Glenn Phillips at deep midwicket.
Kohli threw himself back in disbelief at first, before walking off to a rousing reception. No. 49 may have to wait, but it seems inevitable given his recent form. It was an innings that was even more important to the team’s cause given India were thin on batting after No. 7. And when Suryakumar Yadav was run out, a dismissal Kohli appeared to have had a hand in, India still needed 83 off 87 with five wickets remaining.
Kohli put together 78 with Ravindra Jadeja to take India to the doorstep of their fifth win, which was sealed with 14 balls to spare. It meant India are the only unbeaten team in the competition as the halfway mark nears.
India captain Rohit Sharma was lost for words when asked about Kohli’s imperious run of form. His World Cup tally so far stands at 354 in five innings, with three half-centuries and a hundred.
“There’s nothing much to say, honestly. We’ve seen him do this for so many years,” Rohit said. “Such a calm head. He’ll back himself to do the job. Towards the end there was a bit of pressure, we lost a couple of wickets there, but Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja pulled us back.
Rohit’s opposite number, Tom Latham, was equally effusive in his praise “As a captain, you have to be proactive but also work to your plans,” he said at the presentation. “Think about match-ups. Virat has a response to most plans.”
Kohli has been in a rich vein of form all tournament. It began with a rearguard along with KL Rahul after India were reduced to 2 for 3 chasing 200 against Australia in their opener. Kohli helped add 164 for the fourth wicket to steady the innings before India sealed a six-wicket win in Chennai.
In Delhi against Afghanistan, Kohli batted like he was on a joyride, cashing in on a pulsating 156-run stand between Rohit and Ishan Kishan in their chase of 273. Kohli finished 55 not out to see India home in a pressure-free chase they sealed in 35 overs.
In Pune late last week, Kohli touched upon the desperation to do well after raising his hundred with a six to seal victory over Bangladesh. That landmark had elicited some chatter on Kohli and India possibly sacrificing a few decimal points of their net run rate to allow Kohli to get to his landmark.
“I wanted to make a big contribution,” Kohli had said after the game. “I have had a few fifties in World Cups, and I have never really converted them, so I just wanted to finish the game off this time around. Yeah, hang on till the end which is what I have done over the years for the team.”
On Sunday, he nearly stayed on the course till the end once again. It set the team up for their fifth win, with a semi-final berth slowly creeping up over the horizon.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo