Kohli offers renewed promise for glorious summer
In November last year, when India were knocked out of a group stage of an ICC event for the first time since 2012, a new regime under Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid took over with the objective of improving the way India would play T20 cricket in the forthcoming months.
Virat Kohli had just given up the T20I captaincy and would soon be removed as ODI skipper and then shockingly, would relinquish the Test captaincy.
The hope was that with leadership no longer part of his life, it would free Kohli the batsman. Yet the inconsistencies persisted right through the home season, in the IPL and later in the overseas tours.
Experts were questioning why this version of Kohli needed to go to Australia. Why India could not be more bold and omit him and instead, select players that were more aggressive and could clear boundaries with greater regularity.
Yet, the management ensured Kohli was readying himself for this tournament. Post the tour of England, he was left out of the squad that travelled to the West Indies and was given a 40-day break away from the game before getting reselected for the Asia Cup in late August.
Perhaps, there was a realisation that Kohli needed an arm around his shoulder and help from players and the support staff around him to help clean the cobwebs in the mind before he boarded the flight to Australia.
The signs were there at the Asia Cup, when he made runs against Pakistan and Afghanistan. You could see further glimpses of it in the home series against Australia and South Africa. Kohli was not looking like the prince that ruled the world between 2014 and 2016. He was looking like the experienced warrior, who was self-assured and more aware of the world around him.
The team wanted this version more than the earlier one more than ever before on Sunday. A vociferous crowd at the coliseum that is the MCG, with India stuttering and later struggling at 31 for 4 in their chase of 160. The baggage of losing to Pakistan almost exactly a year ago in humiliating fashion, hanging above them. Kohli was out there to not just win the game for India, he was out there to banish the ghosts of the past, that twitched India the wrong way.
He got to 50 in 43 balls, with a pull shot that fell inches short of going for six. But this Kohli innings, that eventually finished with him making 82 runs in 53 balls, will be remembered for one extraordinary shot.
Before the start of the 19th over, India needed 31 runs in three overs. The first four balls fetched India three runs. Pakistan were favorites at this stage, despite a set Kohli and Hardik Pandya in the middle.
Something had to give now. Haris Rauf ran in and delivered a slower ball just back of a length and Kohli trudged backwards, deep into his crease, and with the straightest of bats deposited the ball back over Rauf’s head for the most astonishing six that he would have ever hit in his career.
The crowd went berserk. Jaws dropped at home and elsewhere. It was a shot that had come under the most extreme pressure, with India staring down the barrel. With all the baggage of the past circling in his mind, Kohli produced a shot that will be remembered for years to come.
The next ball went for a six too and in all the pandemonium that came upon everyone watching the last over, Kohli struck another six which eventually proved to be the killer blow for the Men in Green.
Emotions flowed post the win. The entire team was out in the middle. Kohli looked drained at the start with the odd tear flowing down his cheek, but as he walked back on his own, it seemed like that the emotion had given away to genuine relief. Relief of having left the ghosts of the past behind. Relief of perhaps, having found himself again.
With five matches left in the group stage, all of India and dare I say the world would hope that Kohli’s performance at the MCG on Sunday was only the start and not his peak performance.
If it indeed is the start, then he may have given us just a snippet of a glorious summer that awaits us in the upcoming weeks.