An emotional Virat Kohli has called his unbeaten, match-winning and World T20 semi-final spot sealing 82 off 51 balls as his best innings in the format. India had been set a target of 161, and they were fading away at 94 for 4 in the 14th over. The required run-rate had hit double-digits as early as the 10th over, but Kohli took it head on and did so by trusting his game.
In February, he had spoken about coming to terms with not being able to hit as many sixes as he’d like, and that he had worked past that by looking for fours. The work he had done towards that goal came to fruition in Mohali as he single-handedly led India to victory. Eight of his 11 boundaries came in the last five overs.
“It certainly has to be in the top three,” Kohli said at the post-match presentation. “Probably the top right now, because I’m a bit emotional, so I would like to put this on top. Against Australia, a world-class side, literally a quarter-final for us, we had to go over the line. There’s a lot riding on us in this World Cup, we are playing at home and the crowds want to see us and we just want to give them as much entertainment and fun as possible.”
The game was packed up with five balls to spare and Kohli, who was at the non-strikers’ end, simply raised his hands in triumph and fell to his knees with nothing more than a smile. He has a reputation of not holding back while celebrating, but this innings and the weight it lent in turning the match India’s way had hit him hard.
“I don’t really know what to say right now, because I’m overwhelmed by the position we were in and then to take out the match,” Kohli said. “This is what you play cricket for. You need new challenges in every game, but trust me, you don’t like these situations too much.”
The man who reined those emotions in while the battle was at its peak was India’s captain MS Dhoni. “MS, in the end, kept me calm. I could have gotten over-excited so I think it was a wonderful team batting effort and very happy we crossed the line,” Kohli said.
The reason Kohli, one of the best chasers in the limited-overs game, was feeling uncertain was because of how much India struggled during the middle-overs. Suresh Raina fell to the short ball in the eighth over leaving the score at 49 for 3, and the incoming batsman Yuvraj Singh hurt his left ankle off the second ball he faced. From that time, India had to settle for 40 runs in 35 balls and found the boundary only twice.
“It was a bit tough at that time to focus on what we need to do,” Kohli admitted. “He’s [Yuvraj] such an explosive player, you don’t have to have him at 60-70%.
“He just decided that he was just going to go for the team’s cause. He perished, but it was a good thought because if you are injured, you might as well make the most of the balls that you are going to play because you are not going to be able to push as you want to push as a runner. I think that was a great call.”
India began reeling back lost ground with the partnership between Kohli and Dhoni, which was kickstarted by singles and twos. “Me and him have a great understanding as to where to hit the ball and how to push the fielders on the boundary and that’s why you train in the gym,” Kohli said. “That’s why you do those fitness regimes, those sprints, and all the other tests that you go through. It all helps. I like to play for when I’m tired, I should be able to run as fast as when I’m on zero and I think that training paid off today.”
Another factor in upping his game tonight was the crowd. “The support was unbelievable. Mohali has always been special. We played the 2011 World Cup semi-final here, the atmosphere was electrifying and as I said, the positive energy from the people in the stadium helps you push through those tough moments and a bit of luck goes your way as well”
Kohli hit seven of his nine fours in the last five overs, and a lot of them were placed with skillful precision. It began when he picked a slower ball – the first ball of the 18th over – from James Faulkner and clattered it to the square leg boundary. The next one – a wide yorker – was calmly steered to the backward point boundary and a lofted thwack over extra cover for six provided the exclamation point. Kohli had taken control as those six balls yielded 19 runs.
The penultimate over, from Nathan Coulter-Nile, was crashed for four fours despite what length the bowler bowled. Half-volleys were easy. Length balls simply provided leverage and the short ball was caned to the fine-leg boundary because the man was inside the circle.
Before that sequence, India had to get 39 off 18. After it, the equation was a mere 4 off 6.
“That was a pretty serious innings, that,” Australia captain Steven Smith said when asked if one man had beaten his side tonight, “Under pressure, he just hit everything out of the middle and found the gaps. And he’s done it for a very long time and credit to him, he played beautifully.”
Dhoni was lavish with his praise for Kohli as well, but underneath that lay a rap for the rest of the Indian batsmen.
“I think he has been playing brilliantly in the last two-three, maybe four years, and we have seen him evolve as a cricketer,” Dhoni said. “That is something that is very important. Everyday when you turn [up] on the field, when you play a big innings, you want to improve and you want to keep the learning because you will commit mistakes but what is important is to take the positives out of game and that’s what he has done.
“He has kept improving his game, he is very hungry to score runs for the team and that’s what really counts and actually it’s the other batsmen who have to step up. You can’t rely on one batsman, yes the others have contributed, but still at the same time, if we can do a bit more with the bat at the top of the order and the middle overs, I think we will feel the pressure slightly less. Also, it will be good, because still we feel we are batting at 65% barring Virat”