Virat Kohli, the long lost conqueror, sang a perfect redemption song on the grandest stage with a magical knock that engineered India’s colossal four-wicket win over arch-rivals Pakistan at the MCG, packed with 90,000 boisterous fans, here on Sunday.
King Kohli, as his fans call him, conjured up a memorable unbeaten 82-run knock to anchor a chase of 160 which became tricky after India were left in tatters at 31 for 4.
Hardik Pandya, the most important cog in India’s T20 wheel, struck 40 off 37 balls in a partnership of 113 for the fifth wicket.
Kohli’s ability to win matches for India had come under the scanner due to a prolonged lean patch and with his knock he proved that he remains one world best chasers in world cricket — something that his captain Rohit Sharma acknowledged after the heart-stopping game.
Well, it’s a surreal atmosphere. I honestly have no words. I have no idea how that happened,” Kohli said after his incredible knock.
“Hardik kept telling me, just believe we can stay till the end. I’m lost for words.”
It started in the 19th over when Kohli sent one from Haris Rauf on his hunches and pulled off two back-to-back sixes.
Cricket indeed is a leveller as Rauf, after 22 splendid deliveries bowled two bad ones and it changed the complexion of the game.
Asked about those sixes, the former India skipper said, “It’s just instinctively I saw it, told myself to stay still. The one at long-on was unexpected, it was a back-of-a-length slower ball. The fine leg one, I just threw my bat at it.”
Then he spoke about his best T20 knocks.
“Till today I said Mohali was my best T20 innings. Then I got 82 off 52, today I got 82 off 53. Both are just as special. Today I will count this one higher because of the magnitude of the occasion and the situation we were in.”
With 16 needed off last six balls, Pandya holed out off Mohammed Nawaz’s bowling and with rule of crossover non existent, Dinesh Karthik faced his first delivery and took a single.
With 14 needed off three balls, Nawaz’s juicy full-toss was dispatched for a six over square leg and it was called a no-ball after deliberation by on-field umpires.
Nawaz, the hero of Pakistan’s Super 4 victory in the Asia Cup, by then had lost his nerves.
After Karthik was stumped by an alert Mohammed Rizwan, Nawaz bowled a wide and Ravichandran Ashwin scored the most important boundary of his career.
‘Chak De India’ reverberating around the MCG never sounded sweeter and Kohli seemed numb. He punched ground, took a long walk back, showed thumbs up to the crowd having restored India’s supremacy at a global event.
But the script could have gone awry.
KL Rahul’s struggles against extreme pace and his distinct lack of footwork, Rohit Sharma and Suryakumar Yadav getting out cheaply did upset the rhythm that was set by Pandya and Arshdeep when they restricted Pakistan to 159 for 8.
In no time, India were 31 for 4 and Kohli and Pandya needed to consolidate for the next four overs without losing wicket.
Pandya and Kohli, both disciples of the peerless Mahendra Singh Dhoni understand the grammar of chasing in T20 cricket and how to pace the innings.
Only when leg-spinner Shadab Khan came into operation did Pandya chance his arm and sent him soaring into the stands.
In Nawaz’s next over, Kohli gave him the same treatment while Pandya got his second six.
India needed 60 from last five overs but Rauf and Naseem gave only six runs each in the 16th and 17th over.
Earlier, Arshdeep bowled a dream first spell and Pandya displayed his true worth in the back-10 as India restricted Pakistan to a manageable 159 for eight.
If Arshdeep (3/32) removed skipper Babar Azam (0) and Rizwan (4) in his first two overs to set the tone, Pandya (3/30) rekindled memories of his Asia Cup heroics by consistently hitting hard lengths at brisk pace, letting the pitch do the rest.
Iftikhar Ahmed (51) was the only batter who looked like taking the attack back to India as the spinners Ashwin and Axar Patel (1/21) did struggle a bit and it was designated sixth bowler Pandya who finished his full quota.
Shan Masood (52) struck a half-century but never looked comfortable during his 42-ball knock.
Exactly 364 days back, Babar and Rizwan had clinically decimated the Indian bowling attack for their biggest ever T20I victory against India.
But with the MCG track remaining under cover for a couple of days due to rain and subsequent underlying moisture apart from a liberal tinge of green in and around the good length area meant the hit opening pair wasn’t supposed to make merry.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar (1/22) and Arshdeep knew that all they needed to do was to pitch the ball up and let the track do the rest.
Both bowl at an average speed of 130 kmph and they knew that their best chance to trouble the batters at that pace was to bowl fuller lengths.
A good first over by Bhuvneshwar where he consistently got late movement set the tone beautifully for Arshdeep to take over the baton and inflict a telling damage.
It was the first delivery that Babar was facing and Arshdeep got a perfect inswinger that darted back enough to force the Pakistan captain play across the line. There was no doubt about the leg before decision.
Rizwan (4), who mostly played and missed, was dismissed when Arshdeep very cleverly slipped in a well-disguised short ball and Bhuvneshwar at fine-leg boundary took the easiest of catches.
Rohit’s captaincy was spot-on as he didn’t bring Shami till the last over of Powerplay and brought a spinner (Ashwin) for the first time in the ninth over.
At the start of the back-10, Iftikhar in a space of five balls, hit four sixes and Shami (1/25), coming back for his second spell trapped him plumb in-front with a fuller delivery to end the 76-run third-wicket stand.