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Facing the questions
Overs 30.2, 31.1
They were full deliveries on the off stump, from Hassan Ali and Mohammad Amir. Both were wristed without much power or timing to mid-on. That was when it hit you that something is wrong with Kohli. When it’s his day, he sends these in the arc anywhere from wide mid-on to midwicket. It’s one of those no-risks, high output shots for Kohli. Something he does in sleep, as they say. When he is in outrageous form, he would shuffle in quickly and even whip it between square-leg and midwicket. Something was wrong on Sunday though. Neither the timing — the ball just about limped along to the fielder, nor the placement — the first was a dot, and the second yielded just one run, was right. He let out a grimace even. From then on, he constantly started to fiddle with the bat-grip, and check the bottom-half of the bat. Little tell-tale signs that he wasn’t happy.
Nothing much had gone right for Kohli in the last 13-odd overs. Full deliveries were bunted straight to long-on, short-of-length deliveries were punched to backward point or at best, a single to sweeper cover. The pressure was ratcheting up when Wahab Riaz gifted him with a hit-me ball. Full and not far from his hitting range. Kohli went for the whip. Blink and ball has been dispatched to the midwicket boundary? Nope, it had just about rolled straight to midwicket fielder within the circle. The bat rolled shut rather quickly, the bottom-hand hadn’t kicked in enough to either give power or direction, and the top-hand had collapsed all too quickly. Now, you knew that Kohli was in real trouble here. How was the jail-break going to happen?
Wahab with the slower cutter that had the ball climbing up awkwardly. By this time, Yuvraj Singh was already flowing along, and Kohli would later call this phase as “batting like a club-cricketer”. It wasn’t a surprise that he couldn’t control the bounce, and the ball looped up softly just beyond square-leg. It wasn’t a pull, neither was it his famous swat-flick; it was just an awkward attempt at getting some runs somehow. Luckily, for him, Pakistan fielders were butter-fingered and soft-hearted to seize any game-turning moments. How was he going to turn things around? Would he now start slogging? Would he start moving around the crease and try heaving and tonking? Do the stuff he doesn’t do normally?
The Jail-Break Moment
He had just played one more ball after that dropped catch. A weak scoop off a slower one that had landed safely in untenanted area on the field. There was no signs that he was beginning to slog but then there was no signs that the timing was returning to him when this fourth delivery of the 45th over happened. It was a slower one from Hasan Ali, the one that loops up, almost reaching chest high when Kohli came up with a spectacular response. If there was an urge to slog, he would have gone across the line with an attempted drag-pull. If he had told himself all-or-bust, he would have swiped it to the leg side. The mind hadn’t given up but. Somehow, despite the presence and associated pressure of batsmen in the dressing room, Kohli wasn’t yet ready to throw in the towel. Instead, he decided to go in the ‘V’ to long-on. But the ball wasn’t there for such traditional response, unless he had gone for a tennis-like flat-batted horizontal shot, ala Manish Pandey. The ball was still climbing when Kohli began to bring his bat down in conventional fashion as he would do for a punch down the ground. That he has one of the better short-arm jabs in business, we know, but it’s easier to do in the traditional pull shot but not as easy to incorporate it in a punch down the ground. Somehow, he does it. Not only that some ferocious power kick in, but the ball clears long-on rather comfortably. This was the jail-break moment, and he let every Pakistani in the field know it with a scream.
Finding the answers
A yorker well outside off stump from Wahab Riaz. The end result — a four, of course — wasn’t a surprise. But the shot was . A slice reaching out well away from the body with hardly much footwork — wasn’t pure Kohli. The taller Yuvraj Singh has done it often in the past, only the knees would buckle down, and he would hunch down on his knees almost to maintain balance, reach out with his longer limbs and slice it square to backward point boundary. This time, Kohli decided to take a leaf out of Yuvraj’s book.
A full-length delivery from Hasan Ali outside off and Kohli comes up with the shot that Steve Smith almost pulled off in the IPL final against Mitchell Johnson. Kohli held his balance, and got the bottom-hand kicking in overtime to not only get under the ball but give it enough power and direction and the ball flew over cover boundary for a thrilling six. A six over cover used to be such a rarity in the decades gone by but these days it doesn’t raise eyebrows. The panache and skill in the Kohli hit over covers would have even made the jaded cricket fan go wow.