It’s India vs Australia. A do or die match for qualification. Australia have put up a competitive total on the board on a tricky wicket. In response, India have gotten off to a bad start. Things look difficult but there is this man at the crease. There is confidence. Hope. He starts well with a couple of classical shots.
He is calm. He’s composed. He’s anchoring the innings. He’s pacing it nicely. He watches his partners walk back one after the other. Pressure builds. India need to up the ante. He’s haring down the wicket for one, oh wait, he’s cruising down the wicket for a second. He’s finding gaps with precision. He’s in complete control. Now he is going for it. He’s hitting boundaries at will. The bowlers are helpless. He’s in GOD mode. He’s taken it away. He’s done it again. Magnificent innings. India win!
No, these are not the scenes from the late 1990s when Sachin Tendulkar used to conjure up magic in innings after innings against Australia. These are scenes from Sunday night in Mohali where Virat Kohli played a masterful innings against the Aussies to help India qualify for semi-finals of ICC World T20 and bring back memories of Tendulkar’s masterpieces.
As Kohli waved his wand, the mind was cast into flashback. Visuals of a champion showing his mastery against a giant team under intense pressure flashed in front of the eyes. Had Tony Grieg been alive, we would have felt the adrenaline rush with words of, “They are dancing in the aisles in Mohali, what a player… What a wonderful player!”
Yes, Kohli was that good on Sunday night. Soon after India’s win, the golden words came from the legend himself. Sachin Tendulkar tweeted: “Woooow @imVkohli ...special it was... Great win, fighting all the way!”
— sachin tendulkar (@sachin_rt) March 27, 2016
To which another legend, once a fierce opponent and now a very good friend — Shane Warne — replied: “Great knock by @imVkohli Reminded me of one of your many special innings buddy !!!!!”
— Shane Warne (@ShaneWarne) March 27, 2016
Everyone was driven into nostalgia. Kohli had rolled back the years. The impact of the innings was such that even Harry Kane, the England and Tottehnam Hotspur striker, left everyone dumbfounded by tweeting: “Virat Kohli is some player! In the high pressure situations shows what type of player you are and he does it time and time again!”
Virat Kohli is some player!In the high pressure situations shows what type of player you are and he does it time and time again! #IndvsAus
— Harry Kane (@HKane) March 27, 2016
Steven Smith had won the toss and elected to bat — just like Steve Waugh did on that hot afternoon in Sharjah on the 22 April, 1998, that ‘desert-storm’ match. Smith may have thought that the wicket will slow down later in the day. Dhoni said he would have batted first, too, citing the same reason. Australia openers started off in a blistering fashion, scoring 53 from first four overs. But India capitalised on Australia’s weakness — batting in middle overs — to bounce back which helped them restrict the visitors to 160. Still an above par score on that track.
India got off to a decent start but lost Shikhar Dhawan off the penultimate delivery of the fourth over. Kohli arrived at the crease and his first shot was a confident forward-defence to point off Josh Hazlewood. But when he flicked the next one through mid-wicket from outside off — a shot which Mohammad Azharuddin and VVS Laxman would have been proud of — you got the feeling that there was something special in store. It reminded one of Sachin’s flicks at the start of his innings.
The next one was creamed through point as chants of ‘Kohli… Kohli’ echoed inside the Punjab Cricket Association IS Bindra Stadium. That set the tone.
However, at the other end, Rohit Sharma had gone into a shell and that brought about his downfall. India were 37/2 in the sixth and two overs later, they were 49/3 when Suresh Raina walked back to the hut. The pressure kept rising. Yuvraj strode out to the middle. Smith kept a wide slip and a short leg for him. Yes! In a T20 match. Three balls later, disaster struck. Yuvraj twisted his ankle after flicking one and setting off for a single.
He was handicapped and so was Kohli as Yuvraj could hardly run. Threes became twos, twos became ones and ones became zeros. The pressure kept building but for Kohli it was an opportunity, not a pressure situation. An opportunity to go out there, contribute and win the game for the country one more time.
“For me, stepping on the cricket field is an opportunity, not a pressure situation. I look at it as a challenge that I need to overcome. It is a feeling that’s more addictive than anything else around you. Once you get addicted to it, you want to get more and more of it because as a sportsman, that gives you the most satisfaction,” Kohli had said in the pre-match conference.
These words would have rung in his ears continuously. He was hamstrung with the Yuvraj injury but he stayed calm and composed. He wasn't bogged down. He knew he couldn’t get many twos or threes so he concentrated on singles. He took risks only when they were needed. The required rate had climbed over 10 at the end of the 11th over. This is when Kohli felt the need to release pressure. He cleverly took on the part-time spin of Glenn Maxwell and lofted him over long off for a six. That was the first time he took a risk. It paid off.
His first 32 balls yielded 37 runs which included 18 singles, two 2s, two fours and one six. 56% if those runs were scored in singles.
At the other end, Yuvraj was struggling to connect. He perished in the 14th over trying to up the ante. A handy knock of 21 off 18 balls but not satisfactory enough.
Captain MS Dhoni emerged. This is when Kohli sensed the opportunity. He showed tremendous situational as well as game awareness. He knew Dhoni was lightening quick between the wickets and he had missed out on crucial runs during a half-fit Yuvraj’s stay. So Kohli went on a singles-and-twos spree with that odd risky shot here and there. You could sense that he had mapped it all in his mind. Generally, while chasing, Kohli is ahead of the curve. He plans his moves way in advance almost like a chess player. It all started to turn around in the 16th over bowled by Hazlewood. Kohli and Dhoni ran four twos thanks to some breathtaking running. There was just one risky shot involved which yielded a four and they still garnered 12 runs in the over.
“Me and him (Dhoni) have a great understanding on where to hit the ball and how to push the fielders on the boundary and that’s why you train in the gym,” Kohli said after the match. “That’s why you do those fitness regimes, those sprints, and all the other tests that you go through. It all helps. I like to play for when I’m tired, I should be able to run as fast as when I’m on zero and I think that training paid off today,” he added.
Watson bowled a decent over, which would turn out to be his last in international cricket and the required rate shot up to 13 with 39 needed off three overs. This is when Kohli decided to go berserk.
4, 4, 6 off the first three balls of James Faulkner over. A pull through square leg. A steer through backward point off a yorker — mind-boggling — and then that loft. No one could quite believe how he conjured a six off a slower-cutter from Faulkner which turned away from him off a good length and was lofted over long off for a sublime hit. This was a batsman in complete control.
The blistering twos continued as India amassed 19 runs from the over. With 20 needed off 12 balls, Kohli took his game one notch higher.
“The important thing is when he is taking the risk of playing the big shot, he calculates it well,” Dhoni said three months ago on the Australia tour. “It is easy to play the big shot, everybody can play it, but it is how you calculate and according to your strength take the risk. Then there is more chance of being successful.”
Kohli did just that. It was as if a robotic third eye was fitted in his head as he found the gaps with perfection. He targeted the region through extra cover and backward point precisely in his mind and took calculated risks.
When he placed the second ball of the penultimate over, from Nathan Coulter-Nile through backward point off a yorker for four, it is then that you realised that he was in GOD mode. Next up was a flick wide of short fine leg for another four. Then came the loft over extra cover akin to Tendulkar’s loft off Damien Fleming on that stormy night. And a ball later, the killer blow — a crunching drive through extra-cover, again. That’s it! Game, set and match. He was kind enough to leave a few for Dhoni to hit his mandatory winning runs. Then went down on his knees to celebrate the win.
The hallmark of his innings was his placement and what stood out was how he paced his innings to perfection amid all the chaos around him. His first 37 runs came off 32 balls and next 45 off just 19 balls which included seven fours, one six, five twos and just two singles. 82 off 51 balls with nine fours and two sixes. Just brilliant.
He didn’t slog, played no fancy no reverse sweeps, no scoops, no paddles. Kohli again gave everyone a reminder that you don’t have to be a slogger or an unorthodox dasher to succeed in the shortest format of the game. Grace, with the right application, can trump brute force.
“I think 160 was around par, it just took an unbelievable innings to get India over the line,” Smith said after the match.
It was one of the best T20I innings one could ever witness. It had everything — power, grace, placement, thinking, precision, control, dedication, determination. It was a day when he brought back glorious memories of the past.
It was a day when he came, he conquered and he left. It was just another day in life of Virat Kohli.