Mitchell Johnson walks down to Virat Kohli. His head is leaning to one side. He’s trying to see underneath the helmet. He’s trying to see if Virat is okay. His walk is quick and worried. There is no aggression. It’s the same walk someone has after causing a traffic accident. He needs to get down there. He needs to know Virat is okay.
Johnson’s eyes aren’t fixed on a terrifying stare, they’re terrified.
“Wooooooooaaaaaaah”. James Brayshaw practically howling. He loses himself in commentary, he is paid to be loud and blokey. “Struck”. He’s barking excitedly. “Right on the helmet”. But then Brayshaw realises the moment. This isn’t a just another accurate bouncer. Brayshaw tries to dial back, it’s not three weeks earlier, it’s 63* time.
Brayshaw’s commentary is echoed throughout the crowd. Woah, then quickly silenced. By the time the ball hits the ground it’s already going silent. It feels like you can hear the ball hit the ground, this heavy thud. It’s the last noise that registers for a while.
Kohli wasn’t hit by a demon ball. It wasn’t the shortest ball in the over, or the quickest. The ball to dismiss M Vijay was 89.3mph. The ball that hit Kohli was the same. The last ball of the over that Cheteshwar Pujara pulled for one was quicker, shorter and straighter. Kohli just got it wrong. Really wrong.
Batsmen have been getting it wrong a lot. The ‘helmet generation’ don’t watch the ball. They don’t get out of the way. The don’t play it well. They don’t leave it well. They just brace and hope. They have more padding and protection than any players before them, but they make it unsafe by not doing the one thing that really saves you, keeping your eye on the ball.
Johnson’s ball pitches short outside leg stump. Kohli is shuffling across and forward. He starts to squat down. But the ball isn’t that short. Had he stayed up, it would have been barely chest height. Instead it’s badge height. His eyes are down, the ball just goes straight for him while he attempts the bouncer foetal position.
The peak of the helmet is flicked. The badge is smashed. The ball trickles down his body and lands at his feet. The helmet covers his eyes.
Australian fielders turn up from everywhere. Chris Rogers puts a hand on him. So does David Warner. Brad Haddin comes in as well. Kohli is surrounded by Australian fielders.
The same fielders that Faf Du Plessis referred to as a pack of dogs. The same men who then howled at du Plessis like wild dogs. The same men who told James Anderson to prepare for a broken f***** arm.
The same men; but not the same.
They stood around for support, not for sledging. The arms weren’t broken, they were rubbed. Mental disintegration had gone, it was replaced by the cricket unity. Two teams, one family.
Johnson makes his way back to the boundary. He is a wicket taker, on a flat pitch; the crowd would usually celebrate this with rapturous applause as he got closer. Instead there are a few claps, but the wicket isn’t on people’s mind. Johnson hitting the badge is.
The crowd is still on mute.
“Give him another one” yells someone in the crowd.
Virat Kohli had his helmet off for all of six seconds.
He was shaken up; his head was hit by something at 90 miles per hour. He was surrounded by well wishers. Worried looks from each and everyone of of them. But, had the same thing happened, and Johnson gone straight back to his mark, Kohli might have been ready to face without any delay.
That couldn’t happen, not for this hit, not at this time. Kohli pushes away Pujara. Kohli nodded at Clarke. Kohli waves the umpires back. Maybe he was in shock. Maybe he was trying to posture. Maybe he didn’t want to be seen as the victim.
Kohli is hard. By the time Johnson had turned to walk back, it was clear which man was more shaken.
The next ball was three miles quicker. The same line. The same length. Virat plays it fine.
Johnson turns, and despite the fact that Kohli is okay, Johnson is not.
Clarke runs over to ruffle his hair. Then puts his hands on his shoulders. Johnson looks like someone who has just seen something he shouldn’t have. He tries to act busy, walk past Clarke. A stop at the crease to check his footmarks. Maybe trying to trick himself into forgetting the last ball. The last fortnight. All of it.
The ball before he tapped the 408 on his shirt. He couldn’t forget.
It was in his eyes. It is on his face. It was on his mind. It is on his mind.
Mitchell walks back to his mark. It feels like a long hard walk. It was. It is.