DUBAI (AFP): India’s Virat Kohli says he was “pleasantly surprised” to get his long-awaited century in the short format as he targets more runs in the upcoming Twenty20 World Cup.
Kohli on Thursday scored his 71st international ton — his first ever in a T20 for India — after a gap of 1,020 days to help India end the Asia Cup with a crushing win over Afghanistan in Dubai.
India’s campaign in the tournament ended early after they lost their first two Super Four matches to Pakistan and Sri Lanka — the teams that made Sunday’s final with two wins each.
But Kohli shrugged off his extended dry run with the bat to score two successive half-centuries and then an unbeaten 122 off 61 balls to lead the tournament batting chart so far with 276 runs in five matches.
“This tournament was important for us,” Kohli said in an interview with skipper Rohit Sharma on India’s cricket board website.
“We got an exposure of a knockout stage, of being under pressure but our goal is the World Cup in Australia and we are improving as a team. We will learn from the matches that didn’t go our way.”
The 33-year-old Kohli took a month-long break from tours of the West Indies and Zimbabwe to come back fresh for the tournament, which acts as a precursor to T20’s showpiece event.
During the tournament, Kohli talked of mental struggles in his lean patch and only former captain M.S. Dhoni reaching out to him when he stepped down as Test skipper.
“The way you all gave me space, I felt relaxed,” Kohli told Rohit.
“I was excited and I had to play like this because we have the big World Cup coming and if I play well I can contribute more to the team.”
Kohli smashed two half-centuries against Hong Kong and then Pakistan, albeit in a losing cause, but his latest innings removed any doubts over his form.
The usually aggressive Kohli, who is married to Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma, celebrated the milestone with a wave of the bat and smile before taking off his gloves to kiss his wedding ring.
“To be honest I was shocked that a century will come first in this format after a long time,” Kohli, who was visibly happy after the knock and seen breaking into a jig while fielding, said with a laugh.
“I was pleasantly surprised and very grateful and honoured right now.”
Kohli’s long-time IPL friend and former teammate at Royal Challengers Bangalore A.B. de Villiers tweeted: “@imVkohli dancing again! What a lovely sight.
“When I spoke to him yesterday I knew something was brewing Well played my friend.”
K.L. Rahul, who shared an opening stand of 119 with Kohli in the Afghanistan win, said: “There was no difference to his mindset, attitude and work ethic in the last 2-3 years, or before that when he used to score 100s every second game.”
Kohli struck 12 fours and six sixes as he smashed the Afghan bowlers to all parts of the ground.
“I am very happy, especially from the team’s point of view, that I am back to playing in my template that I have played for a while,” the former captain said.
“Which I was going away from because I was a bit desperate to do something which is not in my game.”
Called “King Kohli” for his prolific scoring, the star batsman has also hit 27 Test and 43 ODI centuries in a stellar international career which began in 2008 with an ODI in Sri Lanka.
India will host Australia and South Africa for white-ball matches before they go Down Under in their attempt to end an ICC title drought.
India won the previous Asia Cup, in a 50-over format, in 2018 but their last ICC trophy came with the 2013 Champions Trophy, but Kohli remains confident of a good show in the coming months.
“I see the next couple of months as a great phase where we play quality teams, we go to Australia, we have preparation time and I have no doubt we will be absolutely ready come the first game of the World Cup,” he said.