A day before Virat Kohli essayed one of the greatest knocks in Twenty20 Internationals, the former India captain had a moment of quiet reflection. He was at the nets on Saturday, finessing his batting ahead of Sunday’s ICC T20 World Cup clash against Pakistan at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
The practice arena is an enclosed space with high walls surrounded by a little road that skirts up. For the fans and media personnel, a good view was all about getting to the highest point and looking down at the maestro. There were throw-downs to be countered while fellow Indian pacers and spinners lubricated their bowling arms and R. Ashwin even raised an lbw appeal.
Coach Rahul Dravid, all winnowing steps, crinkled grin and sharp eyes, observed Kohli. Suddenly the fans on the wall behind the batter, raised their decibel levels. Kohli backed away and looked up. He then spoke to the support staff and batting coach Vikram Rathour requested the ardent followers to pipe down.
A grudging silence reigned and Kohli was back to his shots, with a few threatening the net’s tenuous roof. If he preferred alone-in-a-crowd moment at training, at the MCG the next day, he became the opposite — a limelight-moth seeking applause from the 90,293 cricketing devotees who thronged the stands. The pressure of a steep target after four batters had departed, was countered by Kohli’s steely resolve and throbbing adrenaline.
This was an innings that had all those glorious Kohli traits. An eager-beaver style often reminiscent of Pakistani great Javed Miandad wherein the scoreboard kept ticking over, and when pushed against the wall, those expansive strokes mounted on indomitable belief, sheer power and fluid timing, the kind that would get instant approval from Vivian Richards.
In the 19th over when Pakistan was still ahead, Kohli struck two sixes off Haris Rauf. The first an incredible stand-and-deliver lofted effort down the ground, a shot that will be preserved in memory’s archives like Sachin Tendulkar’s upper-cut six off Shoaib Akhtar during the 2003 World Cup game in South Africa.
The next reflected the alacrity of a pickpocket in a packed bus, he just moved across and flicked the seamer over fine-leg, and it took a while for people to realise what had transpired.
Kohli had done enough to set up the final over with 16 required and the rest is all feverish history. Great players impose their will on sport, Kohli did precisely that. The 113-run fifth-wicket partnership with Hardik Pandya was the pivot from which Kohli flew towards his unbeaten 82 off 53 deliveries.
“I have always said Mohali (2016 T20 WC) was my best innings, against Australia: I got 82 off 51. Today I got 82 off 53. I will count this one higher because of the magnitude of the game and what the situation was,” Kohli said on Sunday.
If this is his second-wind, Indian cricket will prosper. The nail-biting four-wicket victory over Pakistan, perhaps being the first step on a fresh road.