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Kohli’s masterclass against Pakistan praised sky-high by Rohit

Kohli himself rated these innings as his personal best as he led India to the amazing victory in Group 2 of the Super 12 phase of the league and gave the countrymen and women, here and around the globe, the perfect Diwali gift. 

S S Ramaswamy | Melbourne |

Punch-drunk is the word that comes to mind after witnessing the incredible turnaround by India, fashioned by Virat Kohi in the main and supported so well by Hardik Pandya, that lifted the team from the depths of despair to an incredible last-ball victory over arch-foes Pakistan in their opening ICC Men’s T20 World Cup game at the jam-packed Melbourne Cricket Ground here last night.

Kohli’s masterly 82 not out in 53 balls, which contained four sixes and six fours, and his back-to-the-wall stand of 113 with Pandya, who smacked a 37-ball 40 in trying conditions against a pumped-up Pakistani attack, mesmerized the large swathes of Indians in the crowd of 90,000-odd who had trooped into the massive stadium armed with bugles, placards and Indian flags three hours before its commencement.

They were all delirious as India surged to the fabulous four-wicket victory off the last ball with Ravichandran Ashwin calmly lifting the ball from Mohammed Nawaz over the in-field and setting off for the winning run with Kohli at the other end.

Kohli himself rated these innings as his personal best as he led India to the amazing victory in Group 2 of the Super 12 phase of the league and gave the countrymen and women, here and around the globe, the perfect Diwali gift.

“Till today I have always said Mohali was my best innings, against Australia: I got 82 off 52 (in fact 51 on March 27, 2016). Today I got 82 off 53. So they are exactly the same innings, but I think today I will count this one higher because of the magnitude of the game and what the situation was,” Kohli told former India coach Ravi Shastri, now a commentator with the official broadcasters, after the match.

India looked down and out for the count when they had slumped to 31 for four just after power play – having lost K L Rahul, Rohit, Suryakumar Yadav and the promoted Axar Patel – before the innings was revived so brilliantly by Kohli and Pandya with their century partnership for the fifth wicket.

Kohli’s successive sixes off Pakistan’s best bowler of the day, speedster Haris Rauf in the penultimate over, was vintage stuff and reduced the required run rate steeply before he struck Nawaz for a leg side flicked six in the final over square leg, after summoning for a lighter willow, to put India on the doorsteps of a famous victory that will not be forgotten easily.

“When the situation was such that you had to hit the big ones, I changed my bat. I was playing with a lighter bat because all three (Shaheen Afridi, Rauf and Nazeem Shah) of them were bowling 145kph-plus. And I kept believing in myself. Those two shots to Haris Rauf was the time I was just talking to myself – ‘you have to hit those sixes here, otherwise, there’s no chance, we’re gonna (going to) win this game.”

Skipper Rohit Sharma was effusive in his praise of not in his post-match presser and said that the master batter was in his element ever since the Asia Cup held recently in the United Arab Emirates.

“Speaking about Virat, I honestly don’t think he was struggling with form or anything. He was batting as good as he was, but with him, the expectations are always so high that even if he gets a good 30 or 40, people tend to talk about it.

“From the team management perspective, I thought he was in good space right from the Asia Cup where he got a month off (total break from the game) and then he came back to the Asia Cup. He was fresh, got a brilliant hundred there (122 against Afghanistan), and got a couple of fifties leading up to the World Cup. We know the quality that he has and he’s done so well in these types of conditions in all three forms.

In fact, since the excellent 67 made in the UAE, for a lost cause, against Pakistan in the last World T20 Cup in UAE, Kohli has aggregated 635 runs in 18 innings – five of those unbeaten – from 20 matches at a fine average of 42.33.

Kohli, whose drought of centuries in all formats was more of an aberration considering the way he was timing the ball in this near three-year phase, benefited from his vast experience of having gone through such trying situations in his illustrious career, according to Rohit.

“Obviously, he used his experience today more than anything else, staying calm under pressure. And we know how good he is when the score is in front of him. He’s one of the best chasers in the world,” Rohit gushed by declaring the knock as easily not only Kohli’s best (in this format) but also among the best ever by an Indian.

“Yeah, he definitely best for sure, (judging) from the situation we were in and to come out with a victory, I think it has to be one of India’s best knocks, not just (only) his best knock, because until the 13th over we were so behind the game and the required rate was just climbing up and up. But to come out and chase that score was an extremely brilliant effort from Virat and then obviously Hardik played a role there, as well.

Rohit also hailed Pandya who in the course of his crucial knock, after taking 3 wickets in the Pakistan innings, became the first from the country to reach the 1000-run mark and the haul of 50 wickets in T20Is.

“Yeah, I thought that partnership between both of these guys, the hundred-run partnership, was a game-changing moment,” said Rohit about Pandya’s contribution.

“I thought that both of them, because these guys have played under pressure (in) so many games for us, so they knew exactly how to handle that kind of situation. And they did pretty well in that situation,” he remarked further.

Pandya, in the course of his crucial knock after taking 3 wickets in the Pakistan innings, became the first from the country to reach the 1000-run mark and the haul of 50 wickets in T20Is.

Not to be left behind, the Indian bowlers also came in for praise from the Indian captain.

”The first four or five overs were brilliant to watch, honestly. For a little while, it felt like a Test match because of the way the ball was moving around and the carry in the pitch, as well. It was a good cricketing pitch,” Rohit commented.

Both Bhuvneshwar Kumar and left arm Arshdeep Singh, who packed off Pakistan captain Babar Azam and fellow-opener Mohammed Rizwan in his first two overs with just 14 on the board, utilized the seaming, cold conditions well by adjusting their lengths, felt Rohit.

“You’ve got to sometimes understand what the pitch is doing, as well. That back of a length, slightly back of a length, slightly full, was not easy to hit. And what happened in today’s game will tell you that. A lot of the guys got wickets bowling that back of length because, as I said at the toss, there was a little bit of grass on the pitch and the weather was quite nippy, as well.”