It was the fourth ball of the 45th over, Hasan Ali dropped it back of length outside off. In normal circumstances, a batsman would look to cut or slash it over the off side. But Virat Kohli, batting on 45, stood tall in his crease and just smashed it over long on for a 82-metre six, then let out a huge roar pumping his fist. It wasn't a roar of a man who had stockpiled yet another half century against one of his favourite opponents. It was a roar of an angry man who had finally managed to connect one off the middle. It was one of many outrageous shots, a tennis forehand, that Kohli plucked out of his rich armoury and after that, he just went into a different zone. And when Kohli is in his zone, he conjures magic.
When Kohli is at the crease, he just shuts himself totally off from the noise. He isn't bothered. He isn't drifting or getting carried away. He is stable and clicking. Going into the high-voltage India-Pakistan clash, there wasn't just the cacophony of 25,000 exited fans inside and few thousands outside Edgbaston, surrounding the Indian captain. It was also the news of his alleged 'rift' with coach Anil Kumble that had dominated the headlines. While the rumours were rife, the blame and finger-pointing games had already begun. Ramachandra Guha’s explosive resignation letter only added to the confusion.
It doesn't take long for moods to change in sport. When the national team left Indian shores the talks centered around defending the title. Upon reaching the United Kingdom, it was all about the internal clash of egos. The team analysis, combinations, form factors had taken a back seat and the fact that Anil Kumble giving throwdowns to Kohli in the nets made the headlines perhaps encapsulated the polluted mood surrounding the tournament.
And quite obviously the biggest question that arose was about the morale of the team heading into a big tournament especially after the the experience of 2007 World Cup debacle.
Kohli, somewhat, calmed the nerves, ahead of the Pakistan clash and cleared the air.
“There are no issues whatsoever. The team is totally focused on the Champions Trophy," Kohli said in the pre-match press conference. "And I honestly don’t even know … people who even try to tell me about this I don’t even want to know anything of this sort, because in a tournament that is in focus so much, and it’s such a big stage, a lot of people like to find a lot of rumours flying around, especially before the start of the tournament,” he added.
Throughout the press conference, the one word he asserted on was 'focus'.
"We’re focused on our livelihood, which is on the field and that’s all that we’re going to focus on.
“I’m not here to give judgments on anyone’s life. And as cricketers we just focus on the Champions Trophy.”
It's not easy to filter out distractions, especially heading into a highly scrutinised encounter to start off. Amidst the fluttering noise, the need of the hour was a total shut off. And Kohli knows this art better than the most.
That shot for six over long on to get to his fifty released the pressure valve. Kohli, until then, had struggled to time and middle the ball. He had struggled to find the gaps. He had mistimed his lofts and heaves eventually surviving a dropped chance in the 44th over. It seemed as if, he was in inertia. Struggling to determine when to open the floodgates. A set Rohit Sharma too had gone into his shell, and after a four and a six, a not-so-well-judged single brought an end to the Mumbai batsman's innings.
The frequent rain breaks might have played a part in Kohli not achieving momentum. He started off well with 24 from 26 balls with two fours but then managed just 20 off the next 30 balls. It seemed that it may be one of the rare moments where Kohli would struggle to pace his innings to perfection.
Even though Yuvraj's brisk knock had breathed some life into the the innings, the pressure was building. This is when that six from Kohli off Hasan set the tone. An uncharacteristic Kohli (44 off 56 balls) turned into imperious as he unleashed a slew of rasping wristy whips and powerful lofts to hammer 37 off next 12 balls to end on 81 off 68 balls, helping India post a daunting (given Pakistan's batting strength) 319.
Kohli is a perfectionist. He is always trying to push the boundary and raise the bar in everything he does. He pushes himself to the limit. He always wants to lead by example. When he was struggling to get going, he adapted and adjusted, waited for his time and then had the capability to spark a sudden turnaround. It was the realisation that he is a far better player that brought out the roar and fist pump and it was a testament to his hunger, drive and the standards he sets for himself.
"Kohli transforms from faulty scooty to faultless Ferrari in one over!" Renowned cricket expert Mr. Ayaz Memon tweeted after Kohli tonked Wahab Riaz for two fours and a six in the 46th over.
@imVkohli transforms from faulty scooty to faultless Ferrari in one over!
— Cricketwallah (@cricketwallah) June 4, 2017
While Yuvraj injected much-needed momentum, Kohli and Hardik Pandya's finishing touches were the key. The one thing that Kohli's press conferences always bring out is his clarity of thoughts. And after the Pakistan match, you could sense the importance of patience in his game.
"I was pretty okay till 40. After that seeing how shortened the game was, me and Yuvi decided that we are going to take it on," Kohli said in the post-match conference.
"He (Yuvraj) started striking it really well, I couldn't get it away. Till 40 I was easing into the game, taking my ones and twos like I always do. I could not go for the big ones because it was tricky, we went off about four times and we came back in, so as a player who likes to play the long innings till the end and usually plays like that for the team, it becomes difficult to find the momentum every time you come back. And all you've got to do is play yourself in again.
"When Yuvi came to bat, we didn't go back again so he started striking from ball one and that took pressure off me. And may be I should have have given him strike playing correct cricketing shots. I was trying too many things at that stage for those 10-15 ball period but when he got out, I just decided to stay still and just back the strokes that I have and few connected and that's what happens in this sport. Momentum comes your way and it goes away, but you've got to stay patient and when it comes back you've to capitalise on it. I believe in myself I can get 30 off 10 balls in the end. It was showing a bit more composure, may be I should have just let Yuvi take the initiative at that stage, not try to hit from the other hand but when you are out there you just want to get those 15 extra for the team. It's a tricky situation but I am glad I was able to see it through on a high," Kohli added.
Kohli always stands up on the big occasions. Sunday's match was no different. Amidst all the hoopla surrounding the captain-coach rift problems, Kohli shut off the external world to produce a professional display. In the 2017 IPL, the real Kohli somewhat went missing, but on a damp, soggy and buzzing evening in Edgbaston, he was back in the business.