YUVRAJ SINGH and MS Dhoni had left within the space of nine balls. On the eve of his first-ever ODI in-charge Virat Kohli had reiterated on a few occasions about how he had to now take up more responsibility of batting through the innings. He had also spoken about the importance of having that tag-team of Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh back in the middle to shore up his arsenal. But here, in what could best be described as tepid dismissals, both Dhoni and Yuvraj were gone. India were 63/4. England had earlier in the day posted their highest-ever ODI score, 350/7, against India. Now, we know Kohli loves run-chases. He gets a high off them. His numbers in this scenario are outrageous and well-documented. Here, he seemed to be facing an insurmountable task. Not so much because of the target facing him. He’d helped India surpass 350+ totals before. But he now only had Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya to come with still 287 runs to get.
So he chose to do what he does best. Just bat on. As far as the English were concerned nothing had changed from when they left before Christmas. The ball was of a different colour, they themselves were donning colour, they had a different captain in-charge and they were if anything more on top of India than they had been during the split tour. But still Kohli kept finding the boundary. Kohli kept scoring runs. Nothing seemed to have changed for Kohli either. And eventually he scored his 27th ODI ton to lead India in yet another successful run-chase, this time sharing a partnership with Jadhav that he would call one of the best of his career.
Jadhav might have come in and stolen the show. But it was Kohli who commenced the counterattack. He smashed David Willey, who had already snared one of the openers and would add the other one to his tally soon, over wide long-on for six. He did so after jumping out of his crease, despite this being only the fifth delivery of his innings. From there on, it was just Kohli holding court.
Whenever you think these days that you’ve seen it all from Kohli, he surprises you. On Sunday he struck two such shots. One was a whippy flick drive wide of mid-on off a ball that was way outside his off-stump and he had met after jumping out of his crease. The second was a six he hit of Chris Woakes with a straight bat off a short of length delivery that rose to near his chest and flew over mid-wicket.
The first came when India had lost their openers and the second came much later in his innings, after he and Jadhav had snatched the momentum away from the English without ever looking like they were going gung-ho about it. You would ideally imagine a target of 350 being chased down by a team that goes hell for leather from the word go. But Kohli seemed content with conquering this Everest by taking the stairs, with a few leaps and jumps in between of course.
The secret to the Kohli-Jadhav stand was that they never let the English build any pressure. When they weren’t playing some outrageous shots, they were sprinting across the wickets with great regularity. In fact by the time they brought up their 150-run stand, they had only conceded 22 dot balls to the opposition. They were killing England softly.
The required run-rate remained stagnant at around 7.3 for most of their partnership, and it was only once Kohli and Jadhav cut loose did it shift, and that too in India’s favour.
When Kohli and Jadhav departed after their respective centuries it was that other missing piece in India’s ODI setup that needed that was in the spotlight as Hardik Pandya walked out to bat. For once, he looked calmer than the situation itself, and managed to see the team through without much fuss. Like Kohli and Jadhav, he too stuck to tapping the ball around but found the boundary when it mattered most, and in the end probably answered his captain’s call for a finisher too.
It was a run-chase where India always seemed to keep themselves ahead, despite the score-board showing on many occasions that they were way behind the eight-ball. No wonder then that Kohli counted this as one of his ‘special’ run-chases.
“We figured out how to tackle the situation. We thought we could play percentage cricket and keep taking that calculated risks in the middle. The ball travels very, very fast here. We could hit sixes to put that pressure every now and then on the opposition. We chased 350 a couple of times before but not from 63/4. Something really special and stay with me for a long time,” Kohli would say.
“Kedar and I had a gut feel. We thought if we get the score past 150, 160 together still with four down, we had a great chance. We kept looking at the numbers of balls and numbers of runs needed. Once it was below 10 we were confident,” he added.
Brief scores: England 350/7 in 50 overs (Jason Roy 73 off 61 balls, Joe Root 78 off 95 balls, Ben Stokes 62 off 40 balls, Hardik Pandya 2 for 46, Ravindra Jadeja 1 for 50) vs India 356/7 48.1 overs (Virat Kohli 122 off 105 balls, Kedar Jadhav 120 off 76 balls, Hardik Pandya 40* off 37 balls, David Willey 2 for 47)