@Aadya_Wisden 4 minute read
First place in Wisden’s men’s T20I innings of the year countdown, part of the 2022 in Review series is Virat Kohli’s unbeaten 82 against Pakistan at Melbourne. Aadya Sharma pays tribute to the stunning knock
Every member of the voting panel put the knock in first place.
Virat Kohli 82* (53)
India v Pakistan
Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne
T20 World Cup 2022
It’s difficult to exactly define greatness in sport. For some, it’s the uplifting, gut-kicking, heart-pumping feeling that certain moments exude. It makes people jump out of their seats or gasp in disbelief, whichever side of the reactive spectrum you’re on. For others, greatness lies in numbers, in the statistical incredulity of an event. You look at it forwards, backwards, sideways, and the reading still comes out to be brilliant.
On October 23, Virat Kohli played an innings that fused both of those. Add a few more layers of context to it: history, situation, opposition, and you’ll end up with a T20I knock that probably has no parallel. Barely months ago, you would have thought he could never reach that kind of peak again. But Kohli touched the zenith, fell down and came back.
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For those who missed the live version and saw a recap (firstly, pity you), one particular shot was as extraordinary as the innings itself. It’s a stroke that has since been showered with superlatives of all variety – heck, the sport’s governing body called it the “greatest T20 shot of all time”. For those who watched it live though, his brilliance that night was incremental: the deeper you went, the better it got. With that stroke, he reached a beautiful high. One straight punch down the ground, a swirl of the lips, a ball that refused to stop travelling, and an almighty cheer that resonated across Melbourne – even those watching miles away had been lifted from reality into a different plane.
Almost exactly 12 months before that night, Pakistan had blanked India out in their T20 World Cup opener. It was a sucker punch that derailed an entire campaign. Twenty-six overs and one ball into the Melbourne match, it looked like an encore was about to happen. India were 31-4, 129 runs and 83 balls to go. Ninety thousand fans at the MCG and scores (read crores) of others in the two neighbouring countries and beyond were sealed to their seats. Few occasions in cricket can be grander.
He was on 15 off 24 when the first signs of a counterpunch surfaced. Mohammad Nawaz (a bowler we shall come back to later) was cleanly despatched for an over-the-sightscreen six. When Shaheen Afridi came back for his second spell, Kohli’s timing had reset to its high-class standards, and a wristy glance attested to that. The flicks and cuts on either side were clean, neat and precise. It was a long path ahead. But Kohli was making India believe.
With Hardik Pandya by his side, Kohli pushed India to 48 needed off the last three. An attempted bouncer from Afridi flew to the deep mid-wicket ropes, similar in ways to the shot that had, just months ago, got him his first international century in nearly three years. That innings had scraped away months worth of rust from his batting. This one uncovered a shiny, new emerald.
When he sliced a yorker over the infield for four, and pumped the air and yelled like he does, you knew we had been transported back to the Kohli of 2016. You could sense that infectious confidence in Kohli’s body language. Thirty-one were required in two overs. Five balls later, he hit that shot. Yards away, Pandya dunked his head in disbelief.
Next ball, he nonchalantly swivel-pulled six No.2 of the over, over the fine leg fence. Haris Rauf had his hands on his knees. For a second, just for a second, those flashing numbers at the bottom lost context. You were sucked into the brilliance of his batsmanship. The chase became an afterthought.
The over break brought everyone back to their senses, and the focus was on the run requirement again. Sixteen runs were needed off six balls, when one of cricket’s more bizarre passages of play began. The haphazardness of Nawaz’s over nearly took away the pleasant aftertaste of the previous half hour. Despite all the madness, there was no anti-climax. Kohli and India prevailed.
The King, as they call him, was back. Three years of mediocrity were forgotten in fifty-three balls of incredulity. He did it at the G, in front of a pulsating ninety-thousand strong audience, against Pakistan, in a T20 World Cup match, and after a top-order collapse. On paper, the numbers make it one of the all-time great knocks. Watch it again, and you’ll be sure that it is.