Virat Kohli takes India past Australia, into World T20 semis

Daunted with a steep chase, Virat Kohli’s unbeaten 51-ball 82 takes India past Australia and into the semi-finals.

Written by Daksh Panwar | Mohali | Updated: March 29, 2016 1:35 am
Virat Kohli hit 32 off just 11 balls at the business end of the chase to pull off an improbable win over Australia at Mohali on Sunday. Kamleshwar Singh

Frustration came first. The camera panned on Virat Kohli as he cupped his mouth in his palms, trying to hide his disappointment, and then on Yuvraj Singh, who held both hands above the head, publicly displaying his. The Indian men’s team, having just arrived in the stadium, witnessed the Indian women’s team lose the plot in the final over of their must-win match against the West Indies to crash out of the World T20. It was an inauspicious start to a most crucial evening, and things would go worse before they would get better.

There was one good that came out of the women’s match, though. Both MS Dhoni and Steven Smith, not the best readers of the pitch this tournament, went for the toss knowing exactly what to expect from the wicket — a slow turner with inconsistent bounce.

It seemed that batting second on this track would be a huge challenge, which was precisely what Dhoni was asked to do after he called it wrong.

More discouraging portents. Ashish Nehra began with a loosener on Usman Khawaja’s pads and was swatted away, though he followed it up five dream balls in the corridor that shaped away from the lefty. However, the young Jasprit Bumrah showed up with a dysfunctional radar and was blasted away for four boundaries by Khawaja. Australia were up and running. No sooner had Dhoni summoned his trump card Ravichandran Ashwin early, than Aaron Finch smoked two straight sixes off him. In that over, Ashwin also gave away six extras. Four overs, 53 runs.

It was fast turning out into Wanderers 2003. India desperately needed a breakthrough. Just then Nehra bowled one straight from Durban 2003. The packed PCA Stadium erupted.

They have been waiting for it all day. It was a 7:30 pm start, but the fans had started trickling in early. At 2:30 pm, queues had begun to form at the stadium entrances.A bare-chested fan was getting ‘YUVRAJ’ painted across his torso. Maybe, it was because Mohali is Yuvraj Singh’s home ground. But it could also be that the young fellow was aware that a quarterfinal against Australia — actual or virtual — is Yuvraj’s turf, too. He had slayed Ricky Ponting’s Australia in 2011. Now, on this evening — and in evening of his career — this fan was hoping he would turn it up one more time. Perhaps, one last time. This was more than a high-stakes match between two title contenders.

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It could also be a swansong for many an illustrious career. If the home team were to lose this match, this would in all probability be Yuvraj’s last sighting in India blues. And Nehra’s, too. Who knows, Dhoni’s as well. The latter two combined to give India the first spark.

As Khawaja and Finch were threatening to run away with the game, Nehra pitched one up that seduced the left-hander Khawaja into an expansive drive. But it shaped away after landing and kissed his outside edge before settling into Dhoni’s gloves. The two old men celebrated. It was a remarkable first spell of three overs by Nehra, and it included 11 dots. It immediately put the brakes on the Australia’s scoring. Once
Ashwin came back and flummoxed a charging David Warner with flight and turn, India had caught up with Australia.

Yuvraj’s golden arm

Then, as if playing to the gallery — and Yograj Singh — Dhoni threw the ball to Yuvraj. Cue roar. The left-arm pie-chucker pinged the first ball a bit short and Steven Smith looked to jab it. A faint edge to Dhoni. Cue pandemonium.

Some excellent fielding in the deep meant there were few release shots for Australia. Between the 3.4 overs and 12.4 overs only one boundary came. Finch perished, too, trying to break free from that straitjacket as his mistimed pull off Pandya was caught at deep mid-wicket.

Glenn Maxwell’s and useful knocks by Shane Watson and Peter Nevill took Australia to 160 — much less than what they would have expected after the start, but still enough to challenge India. All the more because India hadn’t made this much in this entire tournament. Their highest total so far was 146 against Bangladesh. It wasn’t going to be a straightforward chase.

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Shikhar Dhawan started with the right intent, driving Josh Hazlewood past extra cover. He would clip the same bowler again over square-leg for a six, but these boundaries were few and far between. He top-edged Nathan Coulter-Nile and Rohit Sharma was castled by a Shane Watson cutter. Watson struck again when he bounced out Suresh Raina and India were staring down the barrel when Yuvraj joined Virat Kohli in the middle. It was the same pair in the middle when India had got stuck up in middle in the 2014 final against Sri Lanka.
Miraculous ending

What followed thereafter was a masterclass by Virat Kohli in chase. All signs and superstitions were tossed out the window as he guided India to a miraculous win. “Miracles don’t happen,” he says in a promotional video for the World Cup as he does spectacular stuff. “You have to make your own miracle,” he adds.

He reasserted pretty much the same thing in the press conference yesterday. “Make sure you stack up your hard work and then it pays off at some stage,” he said. “There is no magic wand that I have that I am just swinging and I am scoring runs.”

The 25,000 at the PCA Stadium would beg to differ. For them Sunday night, for all practical purposes, was a one-man magic show.