Mahendra Singh Dhoni spotted the slower ball even as it left the hand of medium-pacer Beuran Hendricks. Only the finishing touch needed to be given to the run chase against South Africa for India to enter the final. With only one run required off seven balls to achieve the target of 173, Dhoni might have as well have carted the ball over the deep midwicket fence and completed the formality.
Instead he waited for the ball to arrive and met it with the full face of the bat’s blade. As the ball dropped down on the pitch and rolled a small distance, Virat Kohli looked amused about his captain’s reluctance to finish off the game. Especially after he had told Dhoni, ‘Aap khatam karo’.
Kohli did finish it off with a boundary the following ball, off Dale Steyn, and India reached their third ICC final in as many years. But interestingly enough, despite Dhoni’s defensive play off the previous ball, India were successful against South Africa on Friday mainly due to the fact that they allowed the opposition’s bowlers to bowl a very low percentage of dot balls to them. And Kohli epitomised this fact.
Kohli at least scored a run in 65 of the 68 balls he faced. He took 28 singles, 10 of these off leg-spinner Imran Tahir. Of the first 16 balls he faced, Kohli didn’t strike a boundary. He was patient and calm, but what really made him stand apart on Friday was what usually makes him stand apart in run chases. In the 50-over format, 12 out of his 13 hundreds while chasing have resulted in an India win. A few of these successful chases have arrived right here in Sher-e-Bangla, a home away from home for Virat Kohli.
He didn’t hit a hundred on Friday. Neither did he stroke too many boundaries (seven fours and a six). Yet, he called the knock his ‘best innings’, one that was good enough for India to make it to their second World T20 final — the first time since India won the inaugural tournament back in 2007.
The number three bat had walked in at 39 for one, and the end of the fourth over. Luckily for Kohli, India had got off to a good start — 33 for no loss in three overs. This ensured that he did not have to attempt the big strokes at the start of his innings. Chances are that if he had done so, it could have led to his dismissal because this wasn’t the most fluent of Kohli’s innings.
The easy use of the wrists to smash the ball past covers or the powerful flick to midwicket was not on show early on.
From the non-strikers’ end, Kohli soon watched Ajinkya Rahane step down and attempt to swat a Wayne Parnell bouncer into the stands. Instead, it landed inside the safe hands of AB de Villiers at deep midwicket. India still needed 96 off 63 when Rahane was out, the second batsman to be out after Rohit Sharma. The openers had given the side a brisk start but the South African bowlers, including Hendricks who bowls a deceptive bouncer with a back-of-the-hand release, pulled things back for South Africa.
Kohli never really shifted gears. Rather he just released the pressure by hitting a boundary in an over if his partner at the other end (Rahane initially and then Yuvraj Singh) didn’t.
Off-spinner JP Duminy was desperately trying to pull off an Ashwin by coming around the wicket and cramping the batsman for room. Despite giving away 14 from the opening over of the innings, he gave away just six from his second over, the ninth of the innings. In the tenth over Wayne Parnell was effective by picking up Rahane’s wicket. The pressure of course increased.
Kohli, however, found a way to release the pressure. Of the first ball of Duminy’s next over, he stepped down and lofted the ball over long o’ for four. Three more runs were scored of this over and the template for the chase was established.
Five, ten, nine, nine and eleven were added to the total. However, the one big over that would make the win a mere formality was needed.
It was to be the 17th over of the innings when instead of unleashing Steyn at new-man Suresh Raina, skipper Faf du Plessis turned to Parnell. It was a blunder. Seventeen runs came off the over. From here on it was a cakewalk for Kohli and India.