There is none better than Virat Kohli to watch as a batter in modern cricket when he is at his imperious best and that’s exactly what he showed while piloting India to an incredible and heart-stopping four-wicket victory over Pakistan in a real humdinger in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup opener at the filled-to-the-rafters Melbourne Cricket Ground here last night.
There were the perfectly timed drives, the inch-perfect flicks and even a stunning punch for a straight field six off Pakistan’s best bowler of the day, Haris Rauf, in the penultimate over of the day as India were chasing their opponents’ challenging total of 159 for 8 on a track that offered good bounce and carry.
Pakistan were left punch-drunk by the Indian fightback led by Kohli with a commanding 82 not out off 53 balls, inclusive of six fours and four sixes – three of which came crucially in the last two overs of the gripping contest.
Most importantly Kohi stayed till then end even as Ravichandran Ashwin calmly hit the winning single off the last ball as India completed a not-to-be-forgotten incredible victory that kick-started their campaign to regain the crown after 15 years on a memorable note in front of delirious fans who had reached the huge stadium well in advance armed with the Indian Tricolour and other paraphernalia.
Kohli had voluntarily stepped down as captain of the T20 team after India’s early ouster in the World T20 Cup just over a year ago in the UAE.
He was unceremoniously removed as skipper of the 50-over side too by the selection panel led by Chetan Sharma that led to a huge controversy. Rohit Sharma then replaced Kohli at the helm in all three formats.
Seen in this background the return to peak form of Kolhi, signalled well by his first international hundred in any format after nearly three years when he scored 122 not out against Afghanistan in Dubai in September in the Asia Cup, should be music to the ears of the millions of Indian cricket lovers, not to speak of the Indian cricket authorities and team.
Kohli was also supported well by Hardik Pandya and their brilliant partnership of 113 for the fifth wicket lifted the team from the depths of despair. Pandya made a 37-ball 40 in trying conditions against a charged-up Pakistani attack.
Their magnificent stand that ultimately guided India to the memorable, edge-of-the-seat victory left the thousands of Indian fans sporting the blue jersey of the team delirious.
Kohli rated this innings as his personal best in this format after India won their Group 2 Super 12 phase opener and gave the countrymen and women, here a perfect Diwali gift.
“Till today I have always said Mohali was my best innings, against Australia, I got 82 (off 51 balls on March 27, 2016). Today I got 82 off 53. I will count this one higher because of the magnitude of the game and what the situation was,” Kohli told former India coach Ravi Shastri who is here as a commentator with the official broadcasters.
India looked down and out for the count when they had slumped to 31 for four just after power play and not only recovered but also regrouped in stunning fashion to carve out the last ball win.
Skipper Rohit Sharma was fulsome in his praise of Kohli in his post-match media conference and said that his predecessor was in his elements from the August-September Asia Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
“Speaking about Virat, I honestly don’t think he was struggling with form or anything. He was batting as good as he was. But with him the expectations are always so high that even if he gets a good 30 or 40, people tend to talk about it.
“From the team management perspective, I thought he was in good space right from the Asia Cup where he got a month off and then he came back to the Asia Cup. He was fresh, got a brilliant hundred there, got a couple of fifties leading to the World Cup. We know the quality that he has and he’s done so well in these types of conditions in all three forms,” Rohit said.
Kohli has tallied 635 runs in his last 18 innings – five of those unbeaten – from 20 matches at a notable average of 42.33.
Kohli benefited from his vast experience of having gone through similar difficult situations in his illustrious career, recalled Rohit.
“Obviously, he used his experience today more than anything else, staying calm under pressure. And we know how good he is when the score is in front of him. He’s one of the best chasers in the world,” Rohit said.
“Yeah, (this innings is) his best, for sure. (Judging) from the situation we were in and to come out with a victory, I think it has to be one of India’s best knocks, not just (only) his best knock, because until the 13th over we were so behind the game and the required rate was just climbing up and up. But to come out and chase that score was an extremely brilliant effort from Virat and then obviously Hardik played a role there, as well.”
“Yeah, I thought that partnership between both of these guys, the hundred-run partnership, was a game-changing moment,” commented Rohit about Pandya’s contribution.
The Indian bowlers, in which Arshdeep Singh and Hardik Pandya were the leading wicket takers with two and three wickets respectively, were also hailed by the Indian captain.