"Virat Kohli's innings, statistics will tell you, is the 13th best knock of his 35-match T20I career so far. But don’t let that mask the fact that against bitter-rivals, on a challenging pitch, facing some deadly swing bowling, this was as good as it gets."
This is from one of Firstpost's many articles in recent times that have been written about the form Virat Kohli is in at the moment, written after the match-winning knock against Pakistan in Asia Cup. I might have been a tad wrong about the 'as good as it gets' part as on Saturday, he showed the cricketing world how to make batting look easy on a pitch that was not kind to batters, to put it mildly.
That 49 against Pakistan during the Asia Cup in February this year was his then-13th highest score, now relegated to 15th. Since then he has played two more near-perfect innings, statistically better than the 49 against an inspired Pakistan bowling performance lead by Mohammad Amir. There was an unbeatean 56 against Sri Lanka, where he barely seemed to move out of third gear.
And then on Saturday came the 37-ball 55 at the biggest stage of them all — against Pakistan at Eden Gardens in a World Cup match.
(Well, maybe not as big as a World Cup final, but tis' the season of hyperbole.)
After a prolonged, rather frustrating game of hide-and-seek with rain gods, when the match did get under way at Eden Gardens it proved to be a much more hard-fought contest than any in recent memory between these two arch-rivals. There have been far too many occasions in recent times where the noise surrounding the build-up to an India-Pakistan match drowned out the actual action on a cricket ground.
A six-wicket win with 13 balls to spare in a rain-curtailed encounter doesn't exactly shout out 'thriller' but it was a nervy encounter nonetheless. As he did in Dhaka the other night, Kohli made light work of yet another run-chase. As ESPNCricinfo pointed out after the win, Kohli now has 836 runs in 19 T20I chases, averaging 83.6 at a strike rate of a shade over 130 with a half-century every two innings.
Words will be written about the brilliance of Kohli. Plenty of them. Not many will do justice to the form he is in at the moment, but credit where credit is due and all that.
Apart from his ability to control run-chases, what stood out on Tuesday night was Team India's knack to bounce back from a crushing defeat. No team is perfect in this format of mind-numbing uncertainties — just ask Dale Steyn and Co about their experience at Wankhede on Tuesday night. But it is paramount to bounce back from defeats, even ones as comprehensive as India's mauling at the hands of Kane Willliamson's Black Caps on Tuesday in Nagpur.
This is not the first time this particular bunch of cricketers have shown that as well, in their relatively brief time together as a squad. After what seemed like an horrible series Down Under — India lost the first four matches on tour — MS Dhoni's side came back in style to win the fifth ODI and the subsequent three T20Is.
The next series at home started off on a disastrous note in Pune, where India were humbled by an out-of-sorts Sri Lankan side in the first T20I. Dhoni's men took the blow on the chin, wiped their rustiness off and finished the series in an utterly convincing fashion, and put together a run of seven consecutive wins that saw them lift the Asia Cup.
There were understandable nerves among fans after the defeat to New Zealand, especially given the manner of capitulation against spin. It added to the intrigue surrounding the India-Pakistan match — a game that is never not surrounded by intrigue to begin with. There were even murmurs from the Pakistan camp that this was the first time in a long time that the pressure was well and truly on India to win in a World Cup match against their arch-rivals. Pakistan saw this as an opportunity, or mauka if you will, to raise the stakes on India's stuttering campaign.
Whether the likes of Dhoni, Kohli and the rest of the India squad will ever admit or not, the pressure could not have been any higher on the Indian side going into this match at Eden Gardens.
And they responded in style.
After a poor performance on a turning Nagpur track, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja brought their A-game on another turning track in Kolkata. The top-order failed once again with Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina especially disappointing (the latter's form and his position in the team deserves an article on its own) but Yuvraj Singh stepped up to ensure there was no repeat of Nagpur with a match-winning 61-run stand with Kohli.
"There are areas where we can still improve, like our batting against spin. It is important that you when you win games you address all those areas," Dhoni said after India extended their record to 11-0 against Pakistan at world events. "You won't get a second chance in the knockout stages. From now on, every game in the tournament is like a knockout game for us. So we have to be at our best."
When the euphoria of this win dies down, one look at the points table will reveal that India's net-run rate is still bad (negative 0.8). There are two huge games coming up against Bangladesh and Australia and only winning both would guarantee a safe passage to the semi-finals.
But on the evidence shown in recent past, this Indian team has a tendency to bounce back strongly from setbacks. That can only augur well for the side going forward in this World T20 campaign.