Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli Image Credit: AFP

A desperate but miscued heave over long-on, a fine catch at the deep for a last-over dismissal.

That’s par for the course at any game of the Indian Premier League, especially if you are chasing a formidable 202.

But when the batsman is Kings XI Punjab skipper Ravichandran Ashwin and the fielder is his Royal Challengers Bangalore counterpart Virat Kohli, you can reasonably expect sparks to fly.

Kings XI Punjab captain Ravichandran Ashwin
Kings XI Punjab captain Ravichandran Ashwin Image Credit: AFP

It was Kohli’s subsequent hand gesture and verbal volleys that instantly became the talking point on social media, while Ashwin’s fit of anger came a distant second.

Chasing 202, Kings XI needed an almost impossible 27 runs from the final over in their game with RCB last night, with Ashwin facing Umesh Yadav.

The over started on a happy note for Kings XI as Ashwin dispatched Yadav for a massive six to bring down the equation to 21 from the last five balls.

But the very next ball, he miscued to hand Kohli a catch at long-on – which the pumped up RCB skipper celebrated with some animation.

Watch his hand gesture and taunts below:

Even by Kohli’s standards of expressive animosity towards his rivals, the dismissive gesture that Ashwin couldn’t even clear the long-on ropes would score an easy 11 on a scale of 10!

But Ashwin was dignified in defeat – handing Kohli the tag of “playing with passion” at the post-match conference.

Tempers flying at a high-stake game between RCB and KXIP is palpable – for both are battling to avoid the ignominy of hitting rock bottom in the IPL rankings.

But Kohli and Aswhin’s frenemic duel actually date back way longer to the turbulent period of transition when Anil Kumble was ousted as the coach of Indian cricket team and Ashwin’s outings with the blue cap got distinctly irregular. Ever since the 2015 World Cup in which India made it to the semi-finals and Ashwin was a major factor in making it happen with a haul of 13 wickets, the off-spinner found it difficult to hold on to his place in the team.

Captains and coaches changed, but Ashwin’s fate didn’t.

In 2017, for instance, Ashwin was dropped for the fourth game of an ODI series with West Indies, after bragging figures of 3/28 in the previous match.

Was he hurt by such exclusions?

“My professional ego was hurt,” was what he told Star Sports on being left out for India’s first two Champions Trophy matches – against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. This was before he bowled a fiery spell against South Africa to ensure India made the play-offs. In fairness, the tradition was first started by Kohli’s predecessor MS Dhoni, but it assumed acute proportions under the current Indian captain. An acknowledged match-winner in Test cricket, Ashwin saw his ODI career retreat into the shadows under Kohli, severely denting his self-confidence. If there was ever a slot available for chop in the ever-changing Indian team, it seemed to be Ashwin’s – regardless of his performance.

From his heydays terrorising batsmen to his controversial Mankading of Jos Buttler at the beginning of this IPL and the ensuing anger in the cricket fraternity, Ashwin has had a long and often frustrating journey. This IPL, both teams have so far played 11 matches, but KXIP has a 2-point edge over RCB to keep their playoff hopes alive.

He might have thrown in his gloves in a fit of anger last night, but this is certainly not the end of Ashwin’s duel with Kohli.

Perhaps theirs will produce more sequels than Marvel’s Avengers saga – who knows?

It’s game on and watch this space for more updates.