India vs Pakistan: Chaser Virat Kohli gets campaign on track

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Two wickets in two balls, and an uneasy calm had descended on a super-charged Eden Gardens. Shikhar Dhawan was done in by the lack of bounce as he tried to steer a Mohammad Sami delivery and bottom-edged it on to his stumps. Suresh Raina couldn’t control the extra bounce and dragged a short of length delivery on to his leg stump.

Sami’s inclusion in the Pakistan team, at the expense of left-arm spinner Imad Wasim, on an unusually sticky and turning Eden Gardens pitch had raised many an eyebrow. At that moment, however, it looked to be the best decision in the world.

23/3 after 4.4 overs, and India had been under serious pressure, playing a survival game. A victory target of 119 in 18 overs was looking a very tall order. But India had a batting gem answering to the name of Virat Kohli. The team had a fighter in Yuvraj Singh, and together they had set up the platform for an Asia Cup encore.

 

Back then, on February 27 at Mirpur, the two had forged a 68-run partnership to help their team get over the line after Mohammad Amir rattled the top order. Today, the occasion was bigger and pressure immense. Coming on the heels of 79 all out, India just couldn’t afford to lose this game. Yuvraj’s 23-ball 24 had character. But Kohli belonged to a different level. On a surface where almost every other batsman struggled, Kohli was resplendent. It was as if he had been batting on a completely different wicket. Actually, he was roaming on a different plane.

The 37-ball 55 not out was a special innings even by Kohli’s hugely lofty standards. It maintained India’s unblemished record against their arch-rivals in the world cups as Pakistan lost their touch of invincibility in limited-overs cricket at Eden.

It was imperative to wrest the initiative after Sami’s wickets in consecutive balls. Kohli steered him to the third man boundary to start the process. The Pakistan fast bowler’s response was a 145 kph thunderbolt. Kohli calmly placed it past square leg for a couple. Those two shots were extremely significant in the context of the game. It helped calm the nerves. To be fair, after the early wickets, it was Kohli or bust for the hosts.

In Dhaka, an umpiring howler had ended his knock on 49. Here he stayed there till the end as India notched up a six-wicket victory with 13 balls to spare. Few can match his record of anchoring the innings in successful chases. The amount of turn on the Eden Gardens pitch had surprised even Sourav Ganguly. The strip played beautifully in the other two matches before this game. Maybe the rain and subsequent dampness – the whole playing arena was under wraps since morning – had an effect on the 22 yards. India had failed to handle the extra spin in Nagpur.

They needed some smart cricket to avoid a repeat. Kohli did just that. He waited for the loose balls, picked his gaps nicely and picked the bowlers to perfection. ALSO READ: Five talking points from India’s 6-wicket win at Eden Gardens Shahid Afridi was making his fastish leg-spinners skid off the surface. Kohli played him late and mostly off the back foot. He used the pace of the ball to good effect. Wahab Riaz was hitting the deck. That’s how he bowls. Kohli waited for his moment. Anything short was punished. Anything over-pitched was driven with grace. A forward push off Mohammad Amir was the shot of the match. He timed it so well that deep cover could hardly move. It was scintillating batting in difficult conditions.

Before that he had hit Malik for a six and a four, when the offie missed his length. Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan had been waving the national flags at grand stand as Kohli was leaving the field after guiding India home. A turnout of 67,000 was giving him a rousing ovation. Fans had been serenading him with ‘Kohli, Kohli’ chants right from the beginning. Kohli stopped for a while and raised his bat in acknowledgement. From the 2015 World Cup to this year’s World T20 via the Asia Cup, he has made a habit of playing match-winning knocks against Pakistan. Today’s effort would have made even Tendulkar proud. Yuvraj’s cameo Yuvraj, who shared a 61-run partnership with Kohli, deserves a significant mention. His batting is still not of his earlier vintage, but he represents a generation of Indian cricketers who hated to lose. Yuvraj played and missed on a few occasions, edged a Shoaib Malik off-break through the vacant slip position and in between, cover drove Shami superbly for a four and dispatched a short ball from Riaz over deep backward square.

He got out to a half-tracker from the left-arm fast bowler alright, but without his grit, India would have been in trouble.In Virat Kohli, a bit of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni Earlier, the Indian bowlers performed very well to restrict Pakistan to 118/5 in what had been reduced to an 18 overs per side contest because of torrential rain. MS Dhoni’s decision to field first in such a high-pressure game – and on a sticky wicket – looked questionable. But the India captain had read the surface right. On a damp pitch, batting was more difficult in the first half. Incredibly, Pakistan pushed down in-form Mohammad Hafeez to No. 7. They also missed a trick by not playing an extra frontline spinner.

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