India were crawling for most of their run-chase against Pakistan. That, though, only opened up the floodgates for Virat Kohli to summon arguably his greatest T20I innings ever, writes Shashwat Kumar.
Six overs have passed in this clutch India-Pakistan clash. India, in pursuit of 160, are already three wickets down. Virat Kohli is still around but the required run rate is much higher than it was at the start. KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Suryakumar Yadav have all departed, and there are moans and groans from the tens of thousands of India fans at the MCG.
In the seventh over, further calamity strikes. Kohli calls Axar Patel through for a non-existent single, and sells his partner down the river. India, at this stage, require more than nine runs per over. Hardik Pandya and Kohli are capable of pulling a victory out of the fire but India have never won after being 31-4 in a T20I.
For a lot of cricketers, that will be an indicator to accept defeat. For Kohli, it is just another clarion call to remind the world how great he is. Almost a signal that he can now shut out the white noise, smirk at those who criticised him previously and take apart their criticisms bit by bit. Oh, and whenever these things happen, India always win. There are no ifs and buts. India always win.
And so, a couple of hours later, they do win. The game breaks into absolute pandemonium towards the end. Mohammad Nawaz bowls a waist-high full toss and concedes a free hit. The free-hit ball deflects off the stumps after Kohli is bowled, and India scamper three byes. Nawaz also fires a wide down the leg side – which R Ashwin leaves – moments after outwitting Dinesh Karthik. So, you kind of get how crazy and unpredictable things became, right?
Among this ruckus, though, Kohli and his finishing act seemed inevitable. Yes, he only hit a solitary six in the final over and was perhaps fortuitous with how the free hit ball and the no ball call panned out. But just an over ago, he had produced one of the best shots in T20 history. And that is not an exaggeration.
On the fifth ball of the 19th over, with India needing 28 runs off 8 balls, Haris Rauf bowled the hard length to perfection. The only difference, though, was that he was up against an inspired Kohli. The former India captain stood tall and crunched it over the bowler’s head. Rauf’s immediate reaction was of disbelief. But he then saw Kohli at the other end, and it made that little bit of sense.
That moment had a profound impact on everything that happened thereafter. Rauf bowled his best ball. Pakistan set their best plan. Pakistan had all of their fielders just where they wanted them to be. But Kohli was just too good. Not many batters in international cricket are able to do that. Then again, not many are Kohli.
In between, there was the usual Kohli chasing masterclass. The early wickets pegged India back, and they had to consolidate. Kohli, though, used that consolidation period to milk the bowling, run hard and chip away at Pakistan’s target even without them knowing. And when the situation demanded boundaries, he produced one of the greatest displays of stroke-making this game has ever seen. From 15 off 24, he finished 82 not out off 53.
As soon as R Ashwin hit the winning runs, Kohli was embraced and mobbed by his teammates. Thousands at the MCG went absolutely bonkers. Kohli’s first reaction, though, was to look up to the heavens and just let out a grateful sigh. Sunday, however, was not about him feeling grateful for being able to do what he did. It was about billions of India fans feeling grateful that Kohli plays for their country.
Virat Kohli was down for the early part of 2022, and a long time before that. India were four down inside seven overs against Pakistan at the MCG. But when the big moments came calling, Kohli ensured that he and India were not out. And that is the most important thing.