Mohali: Over 8.2 — Facing the third ball since coming on to the crease, Yuvraj Singh twists his ankle while flicking one to fine leg and landing awkwardly on left foot.
From that moment, despite the medics attending to him twice, the southpaw’s innings became a struggle. Maybe not with the bat but Yuvraj was never going to win the match single-handedly. He was finding it hard to run between the wickets as the injury started to hurt. The pressure eased on Australian fielders.
The left-hander was hobbling to the other end at every chance. Yuvi’s injury ended up increasing the pressure on Virat Kohli at the other end. On more than one occasion, Kohli dashed for his first run only to find that Yuvraj was in no shape to complete it quickly, let alone setting off for the second.
Yuvraj finally got out on the last ball of the 14th over. When MS Dhoni walked in, 67 runs were needed off 36 balls, an asking rate of 11.17 per over. Round that up to 12. Maybe even higher for this was Australia they were chasing against, a team of brilliant fielders who fight until the very last ball.
As the skipper came to the crease, one was reminded of his words after India’s successful run chase in Kolkata against Pakistan.
“Virat likes to run hard between the wickets,” he had said, on the manner in which the star batsman goes about constructing his innings. “Others look for the big shots in pressure situations, he looks to run and get to the other end. He likes batting with partners who can also run hard between the wickets.”
Who better than Dhoni to do the job then? Quite simply, the captain is the quickest runner in the team, someone who works hard on this aspect of his game.
“I am a simple player. I play unorthodox cricket. I push the ball around, take one or two runs and if the ball is in my bat-swing area, I hit a six,” he said afterwards, dissecting his own contribution to that mega partnership.
Over 17.4 — James Faulkner gets thrashed for 14 runs off his first three balls. And then Kohli pushes one with soft hands towards long on. It doesn’t reach the fielder, David Warner, who runs in from the deep and gathers the ball just at the 30-yard circle. Kohli and Dhoni runs, nay, steals two runs from mid-on!
This one instance encapsulated their partnership. From the moment Dhoni arrived at the crease, Kohli found a new wind in his sails. The pressure that had dissipated when Yuvraj was batting was back again on the fielders. Take, for example, the 16th over bowled by Josh Hazlewood.
On the second ball, the batsman hit to mid-wicket and ran a double. Glenn Maxwell’s desperate throw from the deep was wide off the mark even as Kohli dived to make it back safely. It underlined the urgency of the situation, and how the risk factor had gone up.
Too often a chase is seen as a simple equation between batsmen and bowlers. But the Kohli-Dhoni combination put the spotlight on this third variable, by transferring that pressure onto the Australian fielders.
On the very next ball, there was another fumble as Aaron Finch struggled at deep cover – two runs again. They ran two more doubles, on the 5th and 6th deliveries in that over, as Australia struggled to keep the runs down.
You would think this possible on a humongous ground like the MCG. This was Mohali though, and Kohli-Dhoni made it appear just as big, expanding the outfield with their rapid strides between the wickets.
While it was the key ingredient, there is nothing easy about a 12-per-over run-chase. In that respect, Shane Watson’s catch to dismiss Yuvraj turned the game, for it brought India’s two best runners to the crease, the source of this line-up’s strength in the limited-overs’ arena.
Chasing, in that sense, comes natural to both Kohli and Dhoni, and the method they adopt in going about their business bears similarity as well. Just that their roles are defined differently in the batting order.
Of course, there is also the other variable in their ability. If Dhoni keeps things simple, Kohli, though relaxed, brings complexity to the crease.
“Someone like Virat can hit the ball over covers, square-leg, mid-wicket, even third man. It is about playing to strengths but in the middle overs it is all about running between the wickets. You can take that double to put pressure on the fielder and force the captain to bring the fielder up. In doing so, you slowly keep bringing the fielders closer to you and then you can clear over their heads. One boundary, and the captain won’t know where to have them, at the boundary or up,” said Dhoni.
In that aforementioned Hazlewood over then, Kohli did indeed hit a four off the fourth delivery, ringing true Dhoni’s words as to how the star batsman bamboozled Australia’s plans. The skipper himself played a supporting role, providing the finishing touch.
They added those 67 runs with five balls to spare in whirlwind fashion, to put it mildly. There were 10 boundaries, seven as well as a six coming off the last 13 balls they faced. For the remaining 18 balls of their partnership, they ran – nine singles and six doubles –21 runs off 13 balls, accounting for the five dots.
It took two to tango on Sunday night, and the Kohli-Dhoni combine helped India waltz into the semi-finals of the 2016 World T20.