It was the second innings of New Year's Test at the SCG. India were sliding towards an innings defeat when Virat Kohli fell over as he tried to play a James Pattinson delivery that kept low. Before he could get back up, the umpire had raised his finger. It didn't paint for a pretty picture. As Kohli tottered past the SCG crowd, whom a day ago he'd flipped the bird after abuse hurled at his sister and mother, an air of vulnerability hung over a face normally brimming with confidence, oozing attitude.
A week later, after another Indian batting collapse at Perth which he had valiantly tried to avert, Kohli was ashen-faced at the press conference during the third Test. Water dripped constantly from a leaky air-conditioning unit, and if you looked intently at Kohli's eyes you could almost see a drip of a different kind. "Scoring eight hundreds in ODIs can't be a fluke," he pleaded, trying to fight the emotions that had built up after a week that would perhaps be the hardest any player six Tests old could endure. But this was a man, who hours after his father's death, fought for his Ranji team, leaving all emotion aside, or more precisely using that as fuel to stoke the fire within. And he did that when he was 18!
On Thursday, the 23-year-old struck the maiden Test century of what promises to blossom into an illustrious career. Like all things Kohli, the hundred was high on substance and emotion. He was stranded on 99, he'd seen tail-enders at the other end throw their wickets away and he had been taunted by the Aussie players. But he didn't back down, he retaliated, waving his bat around, ready to cause as much mayhem verbally as he had done all morning with the bat. Then he drove one on the off-side. He took a few steps and leapt in the air, he pointed towards the man who had hurled abuse at him a few overs ago, Ben Hilfenhaus. In the excitement, he almost forgot there was another run to be had before scampering back. He then savoured the moment and the smile was back on his face.
On Thursday, Kohli looked back at the horror that was the SCG Test. His place was under threat after four failures in the first two Tests and a less than impressive start to his Test career.
"After Sydney it was very bad. I was not in a good mental space. I was putting undue pressure on myself. I went to Perth and every day I kept telling myself I have done really well in one-day cricket, that's international cricket as well. I have scored eight centuries, I kept telling myself. To keep telling yourself you are good enough at this level is really important. You need to believe in yourself more than the praise and criticism that comes your way," said Kohli.
If he keeps playing like he did on Thursday, it's a safe bet to say the praise will drown criticism and critics in the future.