It's easy to fall prey to emotion and label most works of Virat Kohli on the cricket field a 'masterclass'. This writer, himself, fell into the trap as he tweeted out of astonishment at the end of the Indian captain's possessed last half an hour of action at Hyderabad.
But Kohli's match-winning, career-best 94 not out against West Indies on Friday evening, by his astronomical standards, was far from a masterclass; heck, he even had a control percentage in the lowly, so-very-human 70s for the first half of proceedings.
Of his first 20 balls, Kohli had scored just 20 runs. Of his first 25, he had managed 26.
The 25th delivery he faced, off Jason Holder, Kohli left — even with the required rate creeping up to the 13-per-over mark. You could look at that ball as the turning of the page as far as this most recent 'special' was concerned — the moment, where, in the flick of an invisible switch, he turned from scratchy to sublime, from problematic to pristine.
Yet there came another point, just six deliveries later, which, too, could be looked at as a page-turner in the final calculations (literally, as well as figuratively). At that stage, Kohli's scorecard had finally begun to tick at a closer-to-expected rate, thanks to a top-edged six followed by a four from the two balls immediately after the leave off Holder. Even still, Kohli was only on 40 off 31. And India needed 91 from 43.
You've probably seen and read enough about that fateful 31st delivery Kohli faced at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, off Kesrick Williams. But it wasn't about that. It wasn't about today.
Two years and a few months ago, playing his first T20I against India, Williams had dismissed a quite on-song Kohli — and followed it up with a quite interesting celebration. On the day, India's scoreboard had read 64/0 in 5.2 overs before Kohli fell, and they eventually managed a slightly-below-par 190, which West Indies knocked off with absolute ease.
On this evening, Williams' moment of slight instigation proved to be a slight too expensive for West Indies; after this exchange of heat, Kohli turned from sublime to celestial, from pristine to perfect. It had been a game- and -page-turner then; it was a game- and page-turner now.
It's something bowlers, and oppositions, the world over have realised all-too-well when it comes to Kohli — he's quite the turbo-charged batsman, not belonging to this planet, on most days anyway; you just don't rile him up further.
In some regard, it was quite similar, at least in effect if not exactly in execution to what is widely regarded as one of Kohli's best-ever knocks in the format: the unbeaten 82 to shepherd the chase in a virtual quarter-final at the ICC World T20 2016, against Australia at Mohali.
Back then, Kohli had nudged his way to 37 off 33 balls, with the equation reading 59 to win off 29 balls. Right then came the change of gear, the flick of the invisible switch — and off his next 18 balls, Kohli took 45 runs as India were home with five balls to spare.
The difference, however, is that in that case, India were only chasing 161 to win. This time around, they were chasing 208 — higher than any total they had ever successfully chased down in the format. In fact, since February 2016, India had only twice chased down anything above 175.
It's been a common bane of this set up, an increasingly familiar failing in recent times. When the run-chase starts bordering the nine-per-over mark, India are in uncomfortable land, and unless at least one out of Kohli or Rohit Sharma (if not both) bat deep into the chase, it is always likely to end unfavourably.
All told, India have faced a chase in excess of 170 on 21 occasions in T20Is — and won only nine. Two of those nine wins came before Kohli had debuted in the format, and he's missed one of the subsequent seven.
Kohli's scores in India's six successful 170+ chases in T20Is with him in the XI? 29 off 22, 72* off 44, 50 off 36, 82 off 54, 43 off 29, 94* off 50. That's 370 runs and four 50+ scores from six innings, an average of 92.50, a strike rate of 157.45.
He is, after all, the master of the white-ball chase. Kohli's average when batting second in T20Is is a monstrous 86.76 (compared to a career mark of 51.91); in successful run-chases, that average is a barely-believable 120.90 from 24 innings. And right now we aren't even considering the 84 ODI wins while chasing, in which he averages 96.55 — with 22 centuries.
In this latest chasing conquest, Kohli will be first to credit KL Rahul, and Rishabh Pant to a smaller degree. Rahul, in his first attempt at making the most of Shikhar Dhawan's absence, showed just why the smart money lies on him opening the batting for India, providing an impetus that is all-too-often lost in the powerplay overs for the Indian T20I outfit. Things may have got a little tricky in the middle overs, but Rahul still ended with 62 off 40 balls, and the Indian scorecard read 130/2 in 13.3 overs when he was dismissed.
Pant's nine-ball 18 will barely look like a cameo when the scores are read in the future, but he instantly released the pressure his captain and his team may have been feeling at Rahul's departure with a six off his very first ball.
18 off nine balls. It's the kind of knock that many might not rate at all. But that's forgetting that this is T20 cricket. This is T20 cricket, and India, finally — 12 years after winning the inaugural world championship for the format, and nearly 12 years after launching the competition that changed this format forever — are waking up to it. And these are the kind of cameos, the bits-and-pieces, if one may, that make the difference in this version of the game.
Through this prolonged period of under-performance, the batting marvel that is Kohli has been one of the rare constants for the Indian T20I setup. On Friday evening at Hyderabad, at least in the second half of his innings, as Kohli activated his beast-mode, India's T20I issues were put, at least briefly, on the back-burner. It may have been an imperfect day, but this was the perfect manual from the master of the chase — and for once, India did ace a steep T20I run-chase.
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