Epochal moments in sports arrive without notice. Unlike a well-planned royal coronation, these moments present themselves like an unexpected ambush. Virat Kohli produced one of those rare gems that left jaws hanging in awe, around the world of cricket.
An epoch of this nature tends to impact more than just the match or this T20 World Cup. Kohli’s masterclass has the potential to influence how chasing teams organise their innings in the short format.
The Indian team in Melbourne dispatched some wild colour and explosive character to spice up the Diwali celebrations in India. Kohli anchored a sensational come-from-behind victory against arch-rivals Pakistan, taking responsibility for a tricky chase after a disastrous start.
Purposeful innovations tend to influence sport and leave a lasting imprint on the very shape of the sport. The shock on Australian faces when Martin Crowe threw the crispy new cherry to Dipak Patel in the 1992 World Cup. The audacity of that thought helped open a new era of bold bowling strategies for One Day cricket.
Sanath Jayasuriya left a similar impact on the game with a daring demolition job at top of the order. His bold assault as an opener changed the complexion of the sport, heralding an era of high scores in the 50-over format.
India’s successful run chase must be of similar significance. At the start of the seventh over, Axar Patel lay sprawling on the ground, caught well short of the crease. India was reeling at 31-4, chasing 160 for victory against arch-rivals Pakistan. Commentators started to lament India’s situation, left reeling at the hands of a virulent bowling attack.
Fortunately for India, the belief that seemed absent outside the ropes was abundantly present inside the throbbing hearts of a determined Virat Kohli and a stoic Hardik Pandya. And the two men started to put the pieces together with painstaking attention to detail. Pandya was barely able to steady his feet, but he refused to give up hope.
Pandya compiled an uncharacteristic 37-ball 40, built more on cobbling together broken bricks rather than the fluid flamboyance that marks his typical inning. It was a hearty effort from a man that did not allow his struggles to gain a measure of the pace to come in the way of his team’s aspirations.
Pandya stuck to his task with rare composure, allowing Kohli the canvas he needed to produce a masterpiece.
The two men worked together in a remarkable rearguard action that showed the cricketing world a new template for a chase under duress. So, what did they do right to help India clinch an unlikely victory in the face of heavy odds?
Pick up the Pieces
Kohli and Pandya kept their heads down to rebuild the innings from the ruins of the power play. This was a phase during which they played with a great deal of patience. In fact, Kohli managed just 12 runs from his first 21 balls. A brand of circumspect cricket that seemed at odds with their natural attacking style of cricket.
They ran well between the wickets, kept the fielders on their toes, and the scoreboard rolling. It was a slow recovery, but they stole the odd run and kept the chase ticking.
Seize the Moment
They picked a moment and went after it. India was just 45-4 after ten overs. The inning was begging for a shove here and a push there. When Pandya hoisted Mohammad Nawaz over mid-wicket at the start of the twelfth over, Kohli took the cue for instruction. He lofted one over long-on to inflict more damage on the bowler.
Pandya added to the collection by scoring a third six in the over. They had dragged India back into the contest on the sheer weight of their fortitude.
Kohli and Pandya capitalised on the shift in momentum. As they nudged the score past a hundred between the 11th and 15th overs, both batters kept forcing the issue by powering their shots through the gaps. This was a phase during which neither man took an undue risk, focusing instead on leaving as little as possible for a final assault.
Stitch a Partnership Together
54 were needed as Pandya and Kohli took their vigilant partnership into an eleventh over. The fifth wicket yielded 100 runs in 73 balls. Eventually, the pair provided 113 runs in exactly thirteen overs together in the middle. It was vital to reviving the flagging Indian fortunes, who looked down and out at the end of the power play.
Dinesh Karthik is renowned for his finishing skills, but Kohli was assessing the game every single moment. As the tension mounted inside a packed Melbourne Cricket Ground, India needed 28 runs in just eight balls. Kohli put his hand up in style. He spent a long time in the middle and was eager to bring India home.
A straight six off the back foot against a slower ball from Haris Rauf left Sachin Tendulkar gushing in disbelief. It was a stroke of genius, a moment, that will live rent-free in many Indian minds. And most importantly, in Rauf's cluttered mind. The Pakistani spearhead would spray down the leg with the final ball of the nineteenth over, only for Kohli to flick it clean over the fine leg fence.
The final over was filled with as much drama as a full-length match. A Kohli sixer amidst the departure of Kartik and the arrival of Ravichandran Ashwin was vital to India’s chances. But in the end, it was their presence of mind that characterised this victory more than anything else.
In running three when the stumps were rattled to a free hit, Kohli and DK showed remarkable game awareness in a tense situation. Ashwin stole their thunder though when he let the last ball of the game slide down the leg for a wide when two were needed to win. Playing with a calm head, Ashwin finished the game by clearing the field, with most of them up in the ring to save that single.
The match was a concoction of many brilliant ingredients. Kohli showed remarkable poise and character to bring the team home to an unlikely victory. His determination rubbed off on the rest of them as they cobbled the pieces together with a calm resolve that transformed a T20 match into a handcrafted work of art.
After today’s game, it will take an insufferable fool to call the short format a raw exhibition of power. Kohli and company showed that it can also be dealt with finesse, like a fine game of chess.