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Warning! Genius at work

Virat Kohli on how he masterminded one of India’s most emphatic T20 run-chases

It was a night when Mohali saw an array of emotions ranging from dismay to agony, and from tension to celebration - all under one roof in a span of under four hours. Not for the first time in the tournament did India set the heartbeat racing to the power of n. Amidst all the run of emotions, there was one man who was playing a different ball game altogether.

The master of run-chases was back at work, back at the big stage playing the lead role. Even as a flurry of wickets fell at the other end with the asking rate sky rocketing, Virat Kohli was in a zone - a zone that was known to him and no one else. It was almost as if he had the field placing mapped in his head, finding gaps with precision, planning every stroke meticulously, taking calculative risks and putting on display a method to an emphatic run-chase. There would be those gentle nudges, some vigour in the running, a flick for four, an occasional glance at the scoreboard and later, a self assuring fist pump on his own bat so as to say ‘I am going to get the team over the line’. It’s almost as if he has a lava of emotions waiting to explode - ready to burst out into performances on the field.

Cut to the final over - 4 runs required off 6 balls and MS Dhoni whacks it to the long-on boundary to seal the chase that was mastered by Kohli all the while. Kohli watched the ball sail towards the boundary rope and went on his knees. There was relief, there was satisfaction, a gentle smile, an emotional look above with the finger pointing skywards - the deed had been done. Kohli had stood tall, absorbed pressure, weathered a storm and sealed the victory. Again.

“It was a pretty emotional feeling when I saw Dhoni hitting the winning runs. I don’t really know what to say,” exclaimed Kohli, who was at a loss for words while speaking to BCCI.TV. “It virtually felt like you are out of the tournament at the end of 10 overs. To pull the game back after that along with MS Dhoni - I don’t know how we did it. Even out there in the middle, I didn’t know how this was happening. I am just grateful that I was able to do it for the team. That is the reason you play the sport. That is the feeling that you crave as a sports person. It is such a wonderful moment for your team. To see your teammates celebrate and get happy is a wonderful feeling,” added Kohli.

There were various facets to the Kohli run-chase. Calm and sedate for the first 20 balls, pushing the pedal from ball number 21 to 40 and then going berserk when the situation had reached bottle neck. Game awareness, acceleration at will, and trying to be one up against the bowler at every stage - Virat displayed everything in his unbeaten match-winning knock of 82.

“The thoughts, the pre-planning for the boundary just kept coming to me in my mind,” Kohli delved into details of the run-chase. "I knew a hundred per cent that I had to target James Faulkner in the 18th over. I thought 3 overs and 39 runs, and one over has to be a big one at least close to 15 runs. We got bigger (19) than that. I think just before the 16th over, I thought if we don’t get too many boundaries, we might be struggling in the end because the pitch was not as flat. The slower balls were holding up. It was very important to stay in the moment and pick your gaps. It was a quick outfield, so I knew if I could beat the fielder inside the ring, I would probably end up getting four runs.”

After Yuvraj twisted his ankle and began playing with pain, the onus was on Kohli to do all the scoring. But once Yuvraj was out, Kohli found an able partner in MS Dhoni, who played the perfect supporting act at the other end. “I have never played an innings like that where we needed 39 off 3 overs and I have been able to pull it off with MS Dhoni batting at the other end,” Kohli said elaborating further about Dhoni’s calming influence.

“I think what really helped was him running those twos. The opposition panicked a bit because of that. They were unsettled because they knew we could run the runs as well and get 12 off one over without taking a risk. I think that is when the bowlers started thinking too much.
“Credit to MS Dhoni. He kept me calm and kept telling me - ‘Pick your areas, these many runs are left in these many balls’. He didn’t want me to get carried away or over excited. He just kept telling me what are the areas I could pick and that just gave me assurance. If I was going to go towards covers, he would give me assurance again and I became confident. I think that is where communication and partnership helps. It was wonderful to pull the team out of that situation.”

There were handshakes all round, there were hugs, the Indian dug out had erupted like a volcano after the winning runs and Kohli had won a few admirers in the opposition as well. Australia might be gutted at losing out on a semi-final spot, but they are sure to remember the genius that did them for a long time. Kohli though, was just happy that the team had won at the end of the day. “I don’t know where I would put this chase. It is up to the people to decide that. I enjoy playing every innings for my country. Hopefully they think this is one of the better chases the Indian team has pulled off. Not just me, it is an effort by everyone. I scored 82; I didn’t score all the runs in the game. Others have contributed as well, so credit goes to them also.”

Just a day before the match, the champion batsman had spoken about thriving under pressure, wanting to be that man who puts his hand up every single time. Boy! He did that that and how. There sure is a genius at work on the cricket field at the moment.

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Biggest moment of my life: Pandya

All-rounder speaks about the run of emotions in his nail-biting last over against Bangladesh

After the 19th over, MS Dhoni called out to Hardik Pandya. He came sprinting towards his captain and was all ears. He took the ball in his hand and began walking towards his run-up mark - not before he had been given some words of wisdom from Ashish Nehra. There are a few more words told to Pandya, who is just about reaching his mark. Pats on the back from the fielders inside the circle follow; claps from fielders in the deep and some hopeful eyes in the dressing room. Pandya himself looks tense as he runs to bowl the first ball which is crunched for a single.

Again, you have fielders wandering around the inner circle, motivating the young all-rounder and instilling belief that he can do the job for his side. To everyone’s dismay, the next two balls are dispatched for boundaries. Mushfiqur Rahim is over the moon and has a war cry look on his face almost shouting at Pandya’s face.

Pandya doesn’t react and walks back to get him caught in the deep by Shikhar Dhawan. Next, Mahmudullah is out caught by an agile Ravindra Jadeja in yet another glory shot. Mahmudullah doesn’t want to leave the field, but Alas! His moment is over, that’s almost game set and match India. Pandya holds himself, keeps his calm and bowls the perfect final delivery to a tail-ender as Dhoni sprints to rip the stumps off. The M. Chinnaswamy is blaring, the Indian flags are waving in full flurry and the fans are at their feet. India have clinched a thriller.

“I don’t have words right now; my voice is also breaking. It is just an amazing feeling,” Pandya said, speaking to
BCCI.TV. “It is the biggest moment of my life. To defend those runs and win the match for your country is special. To be honest, the plan was simple and that was to not concede those 11 runs in the final over. It paid off,” Pandya begins to recall his final over. “I can’t even tell you how it felt at that point of time. Bangladesh were leading all the time and in the end, we just believed in ourselves and it came out well. After those two wickets, the tail-enders were batting so I don’t think it was worth to go for a yorker. The plan was simple and that was to bowl a batsman’s delivery and understand how a batsman would find it difficult to hit under the given scenario. We tried it and it came out pretty well.”

“Everybody was really pumped up to get a win. They were really energetic on the field and when Hardik came to bowl the last over, we were confident that he would bowl well,” pitched in Ravindra Jadeja. “The first crucial ball that he bowled, went for just one run and we knew that if he bowled a couple of good balls, we would be in the game. I think we took a couple of brilliant catches on the field in the last over. Those were crucial catches and the ones that changed the outcome of the game completely. We capitalized well,” added Jadeja.

But what were those words of wisdom from captain MS Dhoni before walking out to bowl? “He didn’t tell me much. He just told me ‘bindaas kar’ (bowl without any fear) because he knows that if I do something with confidence, I would get success. He gave me full freedom to bowl the way I wanted to,” smiled Pandya.

There came a moment when Mushfiqur hit two consecutive boundaries and what followed was a glare from him as reacted just in front of Pandya with jubilation. Pandya said, that moment didn’t charge him up, but he had his own way of answering him back. “It was not about charging up. He thought the match was over when there were still three balls left in the match. I guess my bowling was a fitting reply to that. I am glad we could come out winning at the end of it. The pressure was there because a lot was at stake. Had we lost this game, things would have become really difficult for us against Australia in the next game. We would have had to wait for results of other teams and then take it from there.”

Still lost for words, Pandya reckoned this memory is going to stay with him for a long time. “I don’t want to rate my performance because I might perform well some other day as well. This performance will stay for long. People will remember this performance and so will I. I know this over may have made me a hero for tonight, but at the same time, it could have made me a criminal had I not defended it.”