Cometh the hour, cometh the man! On Sunday evening, a day prior to Diwali, Indian cricket fans got the best gift from their superstar, King Kohli – a win against arch-rival Pakistan in the T20 World Cup. While there were many stars on the night, there was only one chant that resonated through the 90 thousand-plus packed Melbourne stadium at the end of the game, “Kohli, Kohli.” His superlative innings, for which all adjectives fall short, enabled Indians to celebrate like crazy after a game which went right down to the last ball as India won by 4 wickets!
It was a match that India could easily have lost but ‘King’ Kohli rekindled his ace form and steely resolve to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. India won the toss and bowled first to take advantage of the swinging conditions. Mohammad Shami was back in the playing 11 and India preferred two spinners– Axar Patel and Ravi Ashwin. Pakistan began nervously as Babar Azam went for a Golden Duck in the second over. Not long after, they were reduced to 15 for 2 as Rizwan too was claimed by Arshdeep. The repair job was soon started by Shan Masood and Iftikhar Ahmed. While seamers were hard to take runs off, the spinners went for plenty, especially Axar who gave away 21 runs in his only over. That forced Rohit to bring back Shami in the 13th over which worked like a charm as Pakistan lost their third wicket.
A collapse in the middle overs left Pakistan wobbly at 120 for 7 in the17th over. But Shaheen hit a brisk 16 of 8 balls to take Pakistan to a par total of 159. With a pitch which offered a lot of bounce and seemed suitable for Pakistan’s fiery speedsters, 160 was a fighting target.
India began their chase poorly and lost both Rohit and Rahul within the first couple of overs. With Virat at the other end, Suryakumar started confidently by hitting his first ball to the boundary. But he perished soon after for just 15 runs gloving a Haris Rauf delivery to the keeper. There was a mini-surprise when Axar Patel, the only left-hander in the line-up, was sent ahead of Hardik Pandya at number 5. Later, at the post-match presentation, Rohit revealed that Axar was sent in to prevent exposing the middle order to the Pakistan pace trio who were steaming in at full tilt at that time.
Unfortunately, Axar was soon run out cheaply as India faltered to 32 for 4 after 6 overs. As Hardik Pandya made his way to the crease, it looked like a herculean task for India to stage a comeback. Kohli and Hardik, however, calmed the nerves by rotating the strike for a while. But the required rate kept going up and one of Kohli and Hardik had to up the ante if India was to have any chance of making a dent in the total.
It was then that the Batting Gods showered special blessings on Kohli who had scored just 12 of 21 balls at one point. Taking control of the innings, Kohli soon powered his way to a cracking half-century of 43 balls. His 2 crucial sixes in the 19th over bowled by Pakistan’s best bowler on the night, Haris Rauf, bore a stamp of his special class. A magnificent six of Nawaz in the last over brought India to the brink of a famous win. Nervousness got to Nawaz as he bowled full tosses, no ball and wides to hand India a tense last-ball win where Ashwin kept his cool to chip one over mid-off to close the game.
All eyes however were focused on Kohli as he punched the ground teary-eyed even as Indian players rushed to the pitch to celebrate with him. With fans and experts applauding his glorious knock of 82 in 53 balls, Virat’s actor-wife, Anushka Sharma took to Instagram to celebrate his critical role in India’s marvellous win. “You beauty! You freaking beauty!! You have brought sooooo much joy in people’s lives tonight and that too on the eve of Diwali,” wrote Anushka in a caption under photos of Virat celebrating with his teammates. Praising his ‘grit, determination and belief’, Anushka asserted that this was the best match she had watched in her life – and most Indian fans might agree with the Bollywood star wife’s justifiably proud ranting!
One must recall that in the past couple of years, while Virat had to face plenty of abuse for his poor form; Anushka too was not spared by passionate fans. Remembering the tough times and mental stress they experienced recently, Anushka added in her post that someday her little daughter will grow up to “understand that her dad played his best innings… which followed after a phase that was tough on him but he came out of it stronger and wiser than ever before!”
With Virat taking the Men in Blue to a morale-boosting victory, cricket fans hope the momentum generated by this thrilling win will propel Team India to regain the T20 trophy that has remained elusive ever since their triumph in the 2007 World Cup.