Dubai: Virat Kohli is back to his best. Around 90,000 screaming fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground bore witness to his masterpiece that turned defeat into a last-ball victory. His 53-ball unbeaten 82 against Pakistan, which fetched India a four-wicket win in the T20 World Cup on Sunday, must surely rank as one of Kohli’s best innings.
“Till today, I always said that Mohali was my best innings against Australia. I got 82 off 52, today, I got 82 off 53. They are exactly the same innings, but I’ll count today’s innings higher, just because of the magnitude of the game, and what the situation was. It seemed impossible, but then, Hardik kept pushing me,” said Kohli.
“It’s a surreal atmosphere. I have no words, no idea how it happened. Hardik kept telling me to believe, and stay till the end. Honestly, I’m lost for words.”
The knock should silence his critics, who dismissed his century against Afghanistan in the Asia Cup last month. Afghanistan are lightweights and the match inconsequential, they said. Sunday’s game against Pakistan was a heartstopper. It was a match that looked lost by the seventh over when India gasped for breath at 31/4.
After riding out the storm in the company of Hardik Pandya, Kohli single-handedly engineered India’s chase in the last three overs. The former India captain hammered Shaheen Shah Afridi for three boundaries, slammed two sixes off the fiery Haris Rauf (the straight six off the backfoot was incredible) and blasted a six in the chaotic final over from left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz. These were strokes of sheer brilliance. And they came under tremendous pressure from a high required run rate.
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There wasn’t a single false stroke in his innings. It was a masterclass from one of the finest batsmen in the world. Pandya’s newfound maturity helped Kohli steady India’s tottering innings, and the Gujarat Titans’ skipper lit the first fuse for charge in the 12th over bowled by Nawaz. Twenty came from that over, a welcome relief when India scored at a snail’s pace while chasing 160 for victory in the Group 2 game.
India’s chase turned into survival mode when Pakistan pace bowlers Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf repeatedly struck in the powerplay to dismiss KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Suryakumar Yadav. When Axar Patel was run out in the seventh over, India were staring down the barrel. Kohli and Pandya (40 off 37) painstakingly stabilised the Indian innings with a 113-run stand. Yet, victory looked like a mirage until Kolhi turned up the heat in the last three overs.
Asked to bat first, Pakistan ran into early trouble against the moving ball. The rain in the previous days and a hard green wicket offered swing and carry for the pacers. India’s Arshdeep Singh made a memorable World Cup debut by trapping Pakistan skipper Babar Azam in front with his first delivery of the tournament. He went on to dismiss Mohammad Rizwan and later returned to take the wicket of Asif Ali for a three-wicket haul.
Pandya’s three-wicket burst
In between, Pakistan staged a recovery through half-centuries from Ifthikhar Ahmed (51 off 34 balls) and Shan Masood (52 not out off 42). The much-criticised middle order came to Pakistan’s rescue as the two added 76 for the third wicket.
A three-wicket burst by Pandya, including a double strike, pegged back Pakistan. At 115/6, Masood took charge and a cameo from Shaheeh Shah Afridi (16 off 8) helped Pakistan reach 159/8, a total that looked remote.
That was good enough for Pakistan’s fearsome fast bowlers to defend. And they did it well, until Kohli’s heroics.