Virat Kohli inspired India to victory in their winner-take-all contest with Australia to book a place in the semifinals of cricket’s World Twenty20 and a meeting with the West Indies in Mumbai on Thursday. Hunting down 161 to win in Mohali, Kohli was once again the hero for India, firing 82 not out from 51 balls to guide his country to a six-wicket victory with five balls remaining.
In doing so, Kohli not only demonstrated once again that he is arguably the best chaser in world cricket right now, but also a man who thrives under intense pressure like no other. India had made a stuttering start to their innings, losing both openers early, as well as Suresh Raina. Yuvraj Singh, meanwhile had rolled his ankle before being dismissed after a steady 21.
But the thousands of Indians in attendance and the millions watching at home, will have known that as long as Kohli was at the crease the odds were in their favor. Rather than be cowed by the pressure of an expectant home support in a match where a win was required to continue on in the tournament at Australia’s expense, he relished it.
Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, as he showed in a remarkable victory against the odds against Bangladesh on Wednesday, is another with a precious ability to remain calm under pressure. But the biggest job the 34-year-old performed after coming to the crease was to match Kohli in phenomenal sprinting between the wickets to eek out every last run available.
Having upped the tempo with his running, the best batsman in world cricket today then truly ignited to take the game dramatically away from Australia. Kohli started the 18th over by going four, four, six and then in the following over struck four more boundaries to put India on the verge of victory. Dhoni struck the winning runs and had played his part, but this was unquestionably Kohli’s day.
Dhoni talked afterward for the need for the other batsmen to step up and take some of the pressure off Kohli, and he is undoubtedly correct. It is no coincidence that the two matches in which India have lived up to the tag of pre-tournament favorites, Kohli starred, while in defeat to New Zealand and that narrow win over Bangladesh he failed to fire and nobody else could step into the limelight.
But Kohli now just needs two more big innings to guide India to victory in the tournament and match the achievements of 2011, when they lifted the 50-over World Cup on home soil. India had beaten Australia in the quarterfinals on that occasion, and, with the two teams going into this contest locked together on four points and knowing that only one could join New Zealand in the last four, this was a quarterfinal in all but name.
Having won the toss and elected to bat, Australia got off to a blistering start. From the first four overs, they had put 53 runs on the board, their second-highest ever win that period in Twenty20 internationals, and were on course for a score approaching 200.
India, though, struck back. David Warner and captain Steve Smith were swiftly dismissed to halt Australia’s momentum. It was the loss of untimely wickets that crucially slowed Australia throughout the rest of their innings. The big wicket for India came in dismissing opener Aaron Finch for 43 when he mistimed a pull shot from from a Hardik Pandya short ball straight to Shikhar Dhawan in the deep.
Then just when Glenn Maxwell was threatening to seize back control following a big six to take his total onto 31, Jasprit Bumrah caught the big-hitter out with a slower ball that clipped off stump. While their run rate had dropped significantly, Australia did manage to find a final flourish when Peter Nevill grabbed 10 runs off the final two balls, the only two deliveries he faced.
Those looked like they may be vital runs, too, when India failed to start with nearly the same spark as Australia had done. In what proved to be his final ever match for Australia, all-rounder Shane Watson was visibly fired up and took the early wickets of Rohit Sharma and Raina, which, along with the dismissal of Shikhar Dhawan, left India on 49-3 in the eighth over.
Yuvraj had battled through the pain for a time, but his ankle problem had prevented him from hitting big and also slowed Kohli’s running. India’s star emphatically made up for that, though, to produce an innings that even he admitted afterward ranked in his all-time top three.