To see Virat Kohli construct a chase in limited-over cricket is to see something quite un-Indian. MS Dhoni has done some incredible finishing acts of course but it’s difficult to recall anyone as good from the top-order who has steered, revived, resuscitated, and taken control like Kohli. Match banake phir jitana, as they say. (Full Coverage|| Fixtures||Photos)
You could say world cricket of course but it’s better to place him in the Indian context to see where the hell this talent has come from. May be it’s a bit silly to restrict it to an Indian prism in this globalised age of cricket but it seems a good place to start.
Perhaps we have to start from Tendulkar. Before him, despite the ’83 and ’85 triumphs in England and Australia, Indian cricket didn’t really have a template in the shorter formats. It was Tendulkar who tried to start a process. But there have been a numerous times when he hasn’t managed to do what Kohli does these days – finish the game. At times, the man who bore one of the harshest match pressures on his shoulders did wilt. Some criticised him then, and with the distance of time, more will do it in the future but it doesn’t take in the ecosystem of Indian cricket, and its history.
Without Tendulkar, there wouldn’t be Kohli. It’s an organic evolution of sorts and it wasn’t a surprise, then, to see Kohli bow down and salute Tendulkar, who was at the stadium, at the end of it all. Without Kohli to follow-up, Tendulkar’s lineage wouldn’t be complete.
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Having said that, Kohli has not just cannibalised Tendulkar (of limited-overs that is) in some ways but has assimilated traits from others and made it his own. Only batsman before Kohli who was as serene in chase situations was VVS Laxman. It was in Tests and it seemed in fourth-innings situations, when Laxman batted in crisis, he made it appear there was no crisis in the first place. Kohli has appropriated Laxman.
In the mid 2000’s, Rahul Dravid, that under-rated ODI player, was the first Indian to build a reputation for finishing matches. He wasn’t as calm – he couldn’t be as a chase that involved run-rates of nearly 10 was beyond him and he had this effect on us where he would drag us along with him into his match situation and feel the intensity almost- but he was one of the first Indians to show how to construct a chase. Kohli has appropriated Dravid.
In the last few years, Dhoni showed how one can inexorably stretch a chase to its limit, almost threatening to snap its elasticity, but how that breathtaking wait can induce errors in the opposition, cuing the final assault. Kohli has appropriated Dhoni.
There was this utterly Kohli moment in this chase. Everyone knew that if any spinner could do it for Pakistan it would be Shoaib Malik. Shahid Afridi was there of course but it was a kind of a pitch where a finger spinner was always going to be more effective than a wrist spinner, especially with a bit of dew around. Afridi could have bowled a lot better than he did but Malik had started well. One ball spun, bounced, broke through Yuvraj’s defence and bounded off the gloves through untenanted slip. The Kohli moment came soon after.
Sensing that this was the time to appropriate Tendulkar, he went after Malik. He went for the sweep and the ball bounced a bit more than he would have liked and got a slight top edge but there was enough legs on it to fly over backward square-leg boundary. In the same over, he swept Malik through midwicket. Game was over, then, Pakistan’s back was broken.
Before you break the back, you need to get yourself into position. Here is where he did a Dravid. Those numerous cutters from the seamers banging it in, and allowing the pitch to come into play – that’s where the young Indian bowlers who tried yorkers went wrong- was when he used his wrists to wait for the tap them to third man, or nurdle them away for singles. He allowed the pitch to do its thing, hung back to manage subsequent deviations, rode the bounce and tapped it away.
When the time came, he then did a Dhoni. The big drives started coming through, the boundaries came, and the match slipped away in a Kolkata minute.
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What’s really astonishing is this: He isn’t a genius like Tendulkar was, he isn’t as sound as Dravid, he isn’t as explosive as Dhoni, he isn’t as skilfully wristy as Laxman, and yet, Virat Kohli the limited-over batsman is the amalgamation of them all. Unsurprisingly, the whole is greater than the sum of parts.
In the end, it had to be said, to see Kohli construct a chase is the most Indian thing after all.