As Mahendra Singh Dhoni blasted James Faulkner’s low full toss past the long-on boundary, Virat Kohli dropped down on his knees. The Indian vice-captain had virtually run his legs off in his unbeaten 51-ball 82 in the chase against Australia in the virtual quarter-final at the PCA Stadium in Mohali on Sunday evening. Now that the team were over the line, it was as if he felt the full weight of his feat. After single-handedly dragging India into the semifinal, Kohli finally had to be dragged back onto his feet. (STATS || POINTS TABLE || FIXTURES)
But for him, India had no business being there. On a slow pitch that had inconsistent bounce, they were chasing 161 runs — 15 more than their next best score in this tournament. And they were 49 for three in the eighth over after their top order had misfired again. But at No. 3, it’s not as much Kohli as a human safety net that walked out for India.
He thrives on big occasions. Against Pakistan earlier in the tournament, India were 23 for three. He hammered a masterly unbeaten 55 to take the team to victory. If at all, the situation was even more dire on Sunday. Yuvraj Singh, who came after the fall of Suresh Raina, appeared to have twisted his ankle in the ninth over. As he hobbled between the wickets, and the run rate crept up, it must have been frustrating for Kohli. But this is what Kohli brings to the table. Not just skill but sheer focus.
“This format requires you to be at the top of your focus and concentration for 120 balls with the bat and on the field as well. That’s the only thing we can look to do. Stay in the moment and not get carried away with the bigger picture,” he said.
With his partner practically on one leg, Kohli still stitched a more-than run-a-ball 45-run partnership. But then the retiring Shane Watson put an end to Yuvraj’s painful knock, ending perhaps India’s predicament as well. They needed 67 runs off the last six overs.
In came Dhoni, and Kohli did what he couldn’t with Yuvraj. With his captain willing, he ran like he was running for his life. The 16th over by Josh Hazlewood, who had bowled well, shifted the momentum in India’s favour. It was a surreal mixture of skill and athleticism. Kohli kept working the ball in the gaps in this relatively big outfield and kept running like a rabbit between the wickets. There was a delectable boundary in that over, with Kohli skillfully bisecting long-on and midwicket. But the highlight of the over was those four twos. The supremely athletic Aussies were simply out-run, and an brilliant over leaked 12 runs.
“In the middle overs, it was difficult to hit the ball from back of a length, especially against the spinners… we felt if we run well in the middle overs we had a chance,” Dhoni said later.
This running between the wickets also showed another facet of Kohli’s game over the years. His fitness. He used to be chubby and nearly 80 kg during his early days. He has dropped 11 kg over the years.
“We have always run well, we have an understanding, that’s why you train in the gym, you have those fitness regimes, that paid off today,” Kohli said after the match.
That over practically turned the ride. Australia still had plenty to defend — 47 off 24 balls — but as the momentum slipped, their belief deserted them.
Then Kohli took on their finest death bowler, James Faulkner, and pulled and drove him for consecutive fours before charging down and tonking him for huge six over long on.
“That was a pretty serious innings there, under pressure. He hit it right out of the middle and he’s done it for a long time. Virat played an unbelievable knock … I think 160 was around par, it just took an unbelievable innings to get India over the line,” said a startled Steve Smith later.
Kohli himself rated the knock amongst his very best. “This innings has to be in my top three, perhaps the top right now because I’m a bit emotional,” he said.
He was perhaps being charitable. It as good a knock as you can get to see in today’s cricket. In its scale and magnitude, it ranks close to Sachin Tendulkar’s ‘Desert Storm’ against Australia in 1998. Tendulkar had done it in back-to-back games. Kohli, who averages 122 while chasing, seems to be doing it every time he turns up.
“It’s not the first time I’ve enjoyed it,” Dhoni said of Kohli’s knock. “He’s been playing brilliantly or the last few years, he has kept improving his game, he is very hungry to score runs for the team. the others have to step up now, can’t keep relying on him.”