He may have been “lost for words” at the end of an epic game, but Virat Kohli was sure that his undefeated 82 off 53 balls against Pakistan at the MCG was the best T20 innings of his career, “because of the magnitude of the game and what the situation was”.
I would have been smiling even if we had lost – Hardik Pandya
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Eight balls, 28 to get, and Kohli does a Kohli – it was just meant to be
When Kohli soared, and 90,293 people roared – oh, there's never been anything like it at MCG
From 31 for 4 in a chase of 160 on a spicy pitch, Kohli masterminded a spirited comeback with Hardik Pandya, putting on 113 runs for the fifth wicket. Kohli was front and centre right until the dramatic last over, which had two wickets, a no-ball for height, a wide, a six – from Kohli, who else! – and arguments between the Pakistan players and the umpires, before R Ashwin hit the winning run off the last ball.
“It’s a surreal atmosphere,” Kohli told his former India coach Ravi Shastri on Star Sports after the game. “I honestly have no words. I have no idea how that happened.”
“I was kind of pumping myself up to hit two sixes when we needed 28 off eight and that became 16 off six”
‘Lot of credit to Hardik’
The task looked “impossible” at one point, Kohli admitted. At the halfway stage of the chase, India needed 115 off 60 balls. Kohli was on 12 off 21 and later admitted he was “feeling a lot of pressure”. It was Hardik, Kohli said, who changed the mood as soon as he came on to bat.
“I think a lot of credit has to go to Hardik,” Kohli said .”Because he came in and he was very, very positive. He kept telling me, you know, just keep striking the ball, just keep pushing in the gaps. Let’s take the game deep, it can happen, we can do it. Honestly, I was feeling a lot of pressure at that stage. Because I’ve been in these situations quite a bit. So I understand that as a senior player, guys play for so long, a lot of expectations, a lot of responsibility on you.
“But then when he (Hardik) came in and he had a few boundaries, I kind of opened up. It’s T20 cricket at the end of the day, we have to hit boundaries, you have to go up to the bowlers. But that partnership – when it got to 100, we didn’t even realise because we were just enjoying soaking that pressure together and kept talking, running hard. And we kept watching their body language. And we knew that it’s going to turn at some stage. It turned quite late to be honest. I’d have liked to do it earlier, but then we could not have afforded any more wickets at that stage.”
India needed 54 from the last four overs and it looked like Pakistan had the advantage. Except there was still an over from left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz left, and he had been the weak link in the attack. But even before Nawaz came on, Kohli brought India back into the match with consecutive sixes off the last two balls of the 19th over, bowled by Pakistan’s best bowler Haris Rauf.
“I think when Shaheen [Shah Afridi] bowled from the pavillion end (18th over), that’s when I spoke to Hardik that we need to take him down,” Kohli said. “And then the conversation was simple. He (Hardik) said Nawaz has to bowl one over. So I told him if I can take Harris down then they will panic because he was their prime bowler. So I was kind of pumping myself up to hit two sixes when we needed 28 off eight and that became 16 off six.”
Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya had a 113-run partnership•ICC via Getty Images
The two sixes against Rauf – one down the ground and the other over fine leg – were instinctive, Kohli said. “It’s just instinctively, I saw the ball and I told myself just stay still. The one at long-on was unexpected. It was a back-of-a-length slower ball. And the next one, I just swung my bat through the line of the ball and it flew over fine leg. Now standing here, I just feel like it was meant to be. It’s a very, very special moment.”
Master of the chase
Kohli earned the moniker ‘King Kohli’ due to his ability to pace the chase perfectly in ODIs. Tonight was the 18th time in his T20I career that Kohli had remained unbeaten in a chase, and India has won every time.
“I need to be there at the end, that’s a simple stat,” Kohli said with a laugh. “Look, I love these situations. I love having a score on the board because it allows you to kind of understand the conditions, understand the dimensions of the ground, understand the bowling attack, and then know exactly what to do at what stage.
“A lot of people talk about pressure while chasing. For me, it’s clarity. You know exactly what you have on the board, and you just need to get it. So it’s a difference of perspective, which has always helped me. And I like these challenges, I take a lot of pride in them. These are the kinds of games that you play cricket for. After 14-15 years, you need challenges like this to kind of wake you up once again and be like, you know, let’s go again.”
That clarity of thought could be seen when Kohli changed his bat immediately after Rauf’s third over during the middle phase of the chase. Kohli said that Rauf, Afridi and Naseem Shah were all bowling extremely quick and so he needed a lighter bat. “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 of them were bowling 145kph-plus. I was like, just swing through line on the ball. 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 win this game.” And I told Hardik if we can go up to him (Rauf), and if he goes for a big over, they will panic big time. And that’s exactly what happened.”
Virat Kohli roared in delight after India got over the line in a match for the ages•Getty Images
Seizing the moment is Kohli’s other big strength. By the time Nawaz came on to bowl the final over of the match, Kohli knew Pakistan had lost their nerve as they experimented with the field without a definite plan. But Kohli underlined a bigger factor: the advantage of a set batter playing deep despite the recent debate over the role of an anchor in T20 cricket.
“All these things look great at the end (laughs). To be honest, when I was 12 off 21, I was like, I’m really messing this game up, not pulling the ball in the gaps. But then when you have experience then you understand the value of batting deep. That’s always been my role playing for India, to bat 16-17 overs. Because I know that I can do a lot of the power-hitting towards the latter half of the innings. And that’s always been my strength. I can strike at 250-300 as well, when I become really confident and there’s only one guy under pressure and that’s the bowler. So I always try to get to that situation, where I’m not feeling any pressure. I’m not saying I didn’t feel any pressure today, but then you give us a platform to then say you know what, it’s their game to lose now. And it was almost their game to lose. We were just swinging through the line of the ball and we knew when Nawaz bowled that no-ball as well, I knew it and with the keeper standing back there. It was looking like, you know, this is our moment. And we need to capitalise.”
“Higher than” Mohali 2016
Kohli has played some of his finest innings, especially in Test cricket, in Australia and he said that this was “one of the best nights” in his lifetime.
When asked to rank the innings against Pakistan at the MCG, Kohli put it ahead of his previous favourite against Australia in Mohali during the 2016 T20 World Cup, which coincidentally was also an unbeaten 82 with India in trouble in a chase of 161.
“Till today I have always said Mohali was my best innings, against Australia: I got 82 off 52 (51). 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 acknowledged the contribution the crowd of more than 90,000 had made to the occasion, calling it “phenomenal”. “You guys have supported me, shown me so much love and support for all these months that I was kind of struggling, you guys kept backing me. And I am very grateful for your support. Thank you.”