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Sunday, Dec 04, 2022

Before last-over heartbreak, Kohli warms Indian hearts with slice from the past

Kohli's 60 from 44 balls took India to 181 for seven but that didn't prove enough to stop Pakistan as they won by five wickets and one ball to spare.

India's Virat Kohli reacts as he walks off the field after losing his wicket during the T20 cricket match of Asia Cup between India and Pakistan, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

THE CROWD rose from the seats — as they often do when Virat Kohli walks in to bat or when he approaches a milestone. They wanted to get a fuller view of him. Then, Kohli whipped Pakistan pacer Mohammad Hasnain’s 150 kmph thunderbolt over the midwicket boundary for a stunning six to bring up his fifty. The fans in the stands scrambled for the ball. They were reluctant to throw it back, as though they were holding a slice of Kohli. It was Kohli’s first six and his last boundary. That stroke bore the full stamp of Kohli-ness. A rich bit from his past had stumbled on to the present.

And yet, it was a mixed day for India fans. They were pleased to see Kohli’s return to form but couldn’t celebrate an Indian win. Kohli’s 60 from 44 balls took India to 181 for seven but that didn’t prove enough to stop Pakistan as they won by five wickets and one ball to spare. In all likelihood, the arch rivals are expected to meet in next Sunday’s Asia Cup final again. It’s 1-1 in this tournament and next weekend the India-Pakistan cricket frenzy is expected to peak again.

Back to Sunday’s game where Pakistan stunned India by promoting Mohammad Nawaz to No.4, who came up with a match-turning 20-ball 42 in the middle overs in the company of Mohammad Rizwan. Kohli fans, though, would take home a slice of their hero.

That was deja-vu but what caught the eye was something new. When has Kohli been as relaxed as he has been in this Asia Cup? Smiling, winking, chatting with players in the dugout, happily chirping with opponents, indulging the crowd, and generally looking at ease. The veins didn’t pop, and there were no screams when a catch was taken by someone.

Even when he hit that swat-flick and raised his fifty, he had this lovely smile on his face. As a pure standalone itself, the stroke has great value. Kohli just shuffled to the off-side a bit and with a violent whirl of the wrists, whipped the full ball away. The sound gave away the purity of the shot long before you could see its destination. This shot captured the Kohli-ness of limited-overs.

His every stroke today was purposeful — defensive pushes were rare; his front-foot would stride out; he would not check his drives but complete his followthrough; he would leap out of the crease, pirouette on his heels, and run like he was late to catch a train.

Deepak Hooda would testify to Kohli’s intent. Hooda, fresh to the crease, was caught in two minds whether to run or not after Kohli had nudged the ball to square leg. But when he turned back, Kohli was more than midway through his second, wildly gesticulating at him to run.

It was also the perfect Kohli T20 knock — one where he wears the hybrid aggressor-anchor role. He is the aggressor as well as the anchor, the measured blend, veering to neither extremes. When Shadab Khan erred slightly on the shorter side, he thundered him through the midwicket, bisecting two fielders. Not long ago, he would have just nudged it round the corner or pushed it for a single.

Similarly, he was ruthless on anything short, pace or spin. Hasnain tried to bounce him but Kohli just waited for the ball to swivel-pull. But Kohli then returned to the tip-and-run single mode, letting the likes of Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya and Rishab Pant assume the aggressor role. Here, Kohli checked his ego — in the touch he was in, and in the backdrop of criticism that he bats too slow in T20, he could have unlocked his full range of strokes. But he let himself be himself. On Sunday, however, Surya, Hardik, Pant and Hooda could not fuel the final propulsion.

The coach Rahul Dravid had emphasised on the eve of the match: “For those outside, it is about his (Kohli’s) numbers, runs and stats. But for us it is about the contributions he can make in different situations, what role he is required to play for the team. It does not have to always be a 50 or a 100, or a big statistic. Even small contributions mean a lot for us. That said, he is a big player and would be keen on putting in some big performances.”

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It was a big performance from him on Sunday. Pity, the big hitters couldn’t turn it into a match-winning one but Kohli did his best.

First published on: 05-09-2022 at 12:15:02 am
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