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Cricket-India's Kohli returns to form with painstaking hundred

AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) - Relief was writ large on Virat Kohli's face as he kissed the wedding ring dangling from a chain around his neck and looked skywards in a muted celebration after his drought-ending century in the fourth and final test against Australia on Sunday.

After all, it was the modern batting great's first test hundred since November 2019, when he used to be captain of the side as well.

Since that 136 in Kolkata against Bangladesh in what was the first ever day-night test in India, Kohli had gone 41 innings without a test hundred, with many wondering if the 34-year-old was past his prime.

Half a dozen test half-centuries in that lean period and centuries in other formats did little to address the concerns of his fans who have only high expectations from someone who now has 75 international hundreds, second only to compatriot Sachin Tendulkar's 100.

Kohli looked in good form in the second test against Australia in Delhi but ended his slump in Ahmedabad which presented the best batting conditions in the four-test series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

Kohli took 241 balls to bring up his 28th test hundred, making it among his slowest.

His painstaking 186 would not count among his best knocks either but it could not have come at a better time for him and he had to work hard to emerge from the slump in form.

Like so often in the past, Kohli did not race to his century but rather constructed it even if it meant running hard between wickets under a harsh Ahmedabad sun with temperatures hovering around 37 degrees Celsius.

Such was his discipline that Kohli went 161 balls without hitting a boundary, preferring to accumulate runs in a risk-free way.

"It was so hot out there and the way he ran between the wickets and built the partnership, it was really great," Axar Patel, Kohli's partner in a 162-run stand for the sixth wicket, told reporters.

Patel said Kohli also egged him on to go for a maiden test hundred.

"Once I got set, I was connecting everything that came into my radar. He was also giving me inputs -- like once I got my fifty, I should bat long since there was still 22 overs left in the day."

The only blemish in Kohli's 364-ball knock was towards the end when Peter Handscomb dropped him off Nathan Lyon when the batsman was on 185.

By then, Kohli was beginning to run out of partners with number five batsman Shreyas Iyer not available to bat because of back pain.

A tired-looking Kohli finally departed holing out to Marnus Labuschagne after eight-and-a-half hours of hard toil to salvage his reputation.

Kohli's return to form was welcomed by several former players.

"Welcome back Virat Kohli. This is a test century well received in many quarters," tweeted former West Indies bowler Ian Bishop.

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Clare Fallon)