If two strokes could reverse the momentum of a game, those were it, a boundary and a six off consecutive deliveries by Virat Kohli. Not only did 10 runs off two balls whittle down the target, it also crushed Australia’s psyche to an extent that they suddenly seemed deflated on the field, like sensing an apocalypse under a starry Sydney night.
First the boundary, a slash through point, a regular Kohli stroke in Australia, only that this wasn’t a typical Australian strip, rolled with frightening pace and bounce — some say they don’t make those any longer in Sydney. There was considerable width, which Kohli judged and was early into position, the back-foot across, the body opening up, the hands ready to lash out, those instincts he had honed on two highly successful tours to Australia.
Then he had to unpick those trained and well-tuned instincts in Australia, and switch back to the subcontinental mode, wait a bit more and then carve it over point, rather than chop it behind the fielder. If the lack of pace — and it wasn’t Andrew Tye’s cutter or knuckle ball — surprised him, his supreme balance (and presence of mind) ensured he didn’t hit it too early, in which case he could have wafted the shot straight down the point fielder’s throat. The control he commands over his own instincts, that ability to micro-modulate his own instinctive movements, was incredible.
The six that followed was a throwback to that knock against Sri Lanka in Hobart on his first tour, when he relentlessly stepped out to seamers, Lasith Malinga in his pomp of all, and picked them over the straight boundaries. This was even more refined, more Mohammad Yousuf than Sachin Tendulkar, as he check-drove Tye over long-off. True that he doesn’t strike sixes as frequently as Rohit Sharma, but this one wowed the crowd — the highest ever for a T20I in Sydney — and connoisseurs alike. He was far from the pitch of the ball but the fluid, straight bat-swing stuffed the shot with ample momentum to cross the boundary.
That was the exact point that Australia threw in the towel, after a brief flutter of hope. India still required 40 from four overs, not an easily-manoeuvrable equation on a slow strip, but Kohli drilled into their mind a sense of impending doom, like he often does these days. In the next over, he slog-swept Glenn Maxwell for his second six, a more brutal stroke, but even here stood out Kohli’s brains. Again he wasn’t to the pitch of the ball, so needed to hit it harder than he generally does and struck it flatter than higher. Also, he didn’t reach for the ball, rather waited for it. If the long-on fence was initially in his mind, he quickly changed it to mid-wicket.
He fittingly wrapped up the chase with a brace of boundaries, like a precursor to what could unfurl in the upcoming Test series, where Kohli could proved to be the biggest difference between the two sides. Thus his unconquered 61 off 41 ball, a knock of measured devastation, stretched Australia’s prolonged pursuit for a bilateral T20 series win in their own backyard. More importantly, it set India off to their first win of the tour, and it couldn’t have come in a more habitual fashion, their skipper orchestrating a textbook run chase.
There, of course, were other contributors, like Krunal Pandya, who registered the best figures by a spinner in a T20I game in Australia, or Shikhar Dhawan, whose searing 41 set the foundation and gave Kohli ample wriggle room to see off a testing spell from Adam Zampa and later cash in on the seamers. Or the frugal Kuldeep Yadav or Rohit Sharma. But without Kolhi’s chasing nous, his intuitive reading of the match situation, India could have easily stumbled, like they did in the first match in Brisbane. Suffice to say that Kohli fast-ticking brain unpicked the slowness of the less-Sydney-more-Nagpur pitch.
The pitch was so sluggish that the mid-innings talk revolved around whether India should have played a third spinner, though both their spinners had done an exemplary job in strangling Australia in the middle overs. Kuldeep was more threatening, but Krunal benefited from the pressure the wrist-spinner had piled on. But to his credit, Krunal shrewdly mixed up his pace. Despite getting hit in his first over, he curbed his instinct to bowl flatter and faster, stuck to a stump-to-stump line which, allied with the slowness of his wicket, made him difficult to attack. And those attempts to attack only shoved them deeper into trouble. Two of them — Ben McDermott and D’Arcy Short – perished trying to sweep across the line. Maxwell’s wicket was a gift while Alex Carey was fooled by his change of pace.
Thus a series that began in agony ended in joy for him. “When you come back like this, it is very satisfying. You had such a bad day and then against the same opponent you do well, it gives satisfaction, happiness and a surety that you belong to this level. You haven’t played at this level and then you perform like this, it gives you hope that you can play at this level,” he admitted.