The love affair was on display once again in the third and final T20I between India and Australia, where Kohli’s unbeaten 41-ball 61 helped India overcome a tense chase to level the series.
He perhaps doesn’t feel it anymore, but there were multiple points where India were under pressure. He walked in after a superb platform at 67 for 1 in the sixth over, but fortunes swung quite dramatically almost immediately.
The swing started with Adam Zampa bowling a wicket-maiden, dismissing Rohit Sharma and triggering a middle-overs choke. With two new batsmen in, Zampa and Glenn Maxwell ran through some quick, quiet overs. It wasn’t too different from what had happened in the Australian innings; Aaron Finch and D’Arcy Short had begun well against pacers but Krunal Pandya and Kuldeep Yadav changed the course of the game in the middle overs.
The difference between the two halves, and the two sides, was Kohli. Australia’s batsmen kept trying to force the pace, and didn’t manage beyond knocks of 20s.
Kohli too went through the middle-overs struggles on a surface which increasingly became sluggish. His first ten balls yielded only six runs. It didn’t help that his partner KL Rahul was struggling even more, managing only 14 off 20 balls despite hitting a six. As Maxwell and Zampa strung together dot balls aplenty, India managed only 22 runs between overs 11 and 15.
He watched from the other end as Rahul and Rishabh Pant fell off successive balls. At that stage, India needed 57 off 41. With Dinesh Karthik too taking his time to settle in, the next 11 balls yielded only five runs.
Australia’s plan was to hold Andrew Tye for the death. He came on only in the 14th over, and immediately struck with Pant’s wicket. At that point, Kohli was on 25 off 20. Within the next 14 balls, he reached his half-century, dismantling Australia’s plans without any fuss.
From 52 off 30, Kohli smashed Tye for a six and a four, bringing the equation to 40 off 24. The six was a statement in itself; he could dance down and send it over long-off whenever he wanted, but hadn’t done until then only because it wasn’t needed. Another six off Maxwell made it 27 off 18, which wasn’t too difficult with Karthik also joining in. Fittingly, Kohli finished the game hitting two boundaries off Tye and raised his arms in joy, as he has done on countless times in coloured clothes for India.
In many ways, this innings was a mini-version of his knock against the same opponents in the World T20 2016. India were chasing a tricky 161 on a tough Mohali track and were struggling for momentum at 94 for 4 in 14 overs. Kohli took control, ending unbeaten on a 51-ball 82, built largely on terrific running and smart pacing of the chase. In that game, his first 50 had taken 40 balls. The next 11 produced 32, and India won with five balls to spare.
Here, too, Kohli had hit only one boundary in his first 20 balls. By the time he ended, he had four fours and two sixes. It’s this ability to pace his innings and attack when, and whenever, needed that makes him the master chaser even in T20s.
He has remained unbeaten 14 times in chases in T20Is, and India have won in each of those occasions. That says it all.
First Published: November 25, 2018, 7:49 PM IST