David quelling Goliath is a tale as old as the hills and one that has a resonance even today. Transfer this template into the sporting arena wherein the underdog punches above its weight and causes an upset and you get magic and exhilaration. Convert this into a situational crisis when a chasing team loses wickets and is up against an inflationary required run-rate and then the stage gets set for either a miracle or a heartbreak.
What transpired at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on October 23 was nothing short of the improbable. The ICC Twenty20 World Cup Super 12 game between India and Pakistan was seemingly heading the latter’s way on a pulsating Sunday. Rohit Sharma’s men had lost four early wickets and suddenly the rival’s 159 for eight acquired an ominous hue. The back-story of India often prevailing over its western neighbour in ICC tussles was good to know but hardly offered comfort considering the grim reality unfolding at a gladiatorial arena.
However, Virat Kohli seemed immune to the stress-points emanating from history — India against Pakistan; context — India 31 for four; and personal angst — the concerned batter had only just regained his form in the recent Asia Cup after a long dry spell. He bided his time, defending, leaving deliveries outside off, but equally adept at pinching singles or running twos while tapping into the vast open spaces on offer at the sprawling MCG. Giving him company was Hardik Pandya, who gives these pummelled-hero-punching-back-at-the-villain vibes associated with Indian masala flicks on 70mm screens.
The choice seemed to lie between abject capitulation and honourable defeat, if ever there was one, as Pakistan was way ahead. But egged by Pandya and his own self-belief, Kohli dished out an innings for the ages in an era of listicles. His unbeaten 82 from 53 deliveries will linger forever right on top among the greatest knocks that cricket has ever witnessed since bored shepherds used a roughly hewn branch to strike at taped balls in the English countryside.
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The willow game has witnessed some astonishing batting stints ever since umpires said let’s play across the British Commonwealth. Sir Don Bradman from the mists of time or closer to our vintage — the likes of Vivian Richards, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Steve Waugh, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman or even Dean Jones — have all played that singular defining innings that builds up the folklore around them. And these are epics cutting across formats — basically Tests and ODIs, in winning pursuits, losing causes and knife-edged stalemates.
One for the album: India’s captain Rohit Sharma lifts Virat Kohli after the victory against Pakistan.
| Photo Credit: AFP
But in T20Is, move over the rest and hail King Kohli. His 82 not out, is the stuff of legend and obviously the finest given the breathtaking imagination, the enormity of its execution and a stunning achievement that quelled raging fires. In the immediacy of its four-wicket triumph secured off the last ball against Pakistan, India had started its latest T20 WC campaign on a winning note. Years later, what would be burnt into the collective memories of cricket-lovers is the searing effort of Kohli and the manner in which he made all of us believe that ‘Phoenix rising from the ashes’ isn’t just grandstanding but a supreme possibility when an athlete imposes his or her will on the field.
Diego Maradona showed us this in the 1986 football World Cup when he single-handedly orchestrated Argentina’s title win. It all boils down to belief and back then in Mexico, Maradona kept muttering in Spanish: “We are here to win.” Cut to the latest Houdini, Kohli willed himself to hit those two jaw-dropping sixes against speedster Haris Rauf, one straight down the ground and another flicked over fine-leg. It was the 19th over and until then the match was within Babar Azam’s grasp.
The 20th over with its 16 needed became a mere formality despite all the madness evident in that micro-phase of no-balls, wides, a free-hit, two dismissals and a lucky reprieve. When R. Ashwin struck the winning run, all Kohli could do was to slump down, clench his fist, and then point a finger at the skies while tears glistened in his eyes. Cricket like all other sport gets into the zone of ‘where does this rank?’ debate and Kohli’s latest adventure drew in that query again.
Perhaps for the back-to-the-wall situation and from there to pull of a win against the mighty Aussies at the Eden Gardens Test in 2001, Laxman’s 281 will remain the greatest knock. To follow-on and to get past Waugh’s men with Dravid lending support, wasn’t easy but Laxman did that and it is a knock that stays on top. Moving over from Test whites to coloured clothing in ODIs, we get to Sachin Tendulkar’s ‘desert-storm’ assaults in Sharjah in 1998, the rival was again Australia and the Mumbai maestro etched two successive knocks — one helped India reach the final, the second propelled the Men in Blue to the title.
And if you leap further back in time, we get to Kapil Dev’s stunning unbeaten 175 that rescued India against Zimbabwe and eventually paved the way for a win. Perhaps it was the catalyst that helped the squad go all the way and win the 1983 World Cup. The audacity of hope was again stressed when Kapil struck spinner Eddie Hemmings for four consecutive sixes with last-man Narendra Hirwani watching in a 1990 Lord’s Test. Those 24 runs helped India avoid the follow-on, Hirwani was immediately dismissed and even if the match was eventually lost, the supreme all-rounder’s belief that he could just hit four sixes before his partner succumbed, is the stuff of wild dreams.
Kohli exhibited a similar ‘can-be-done’ trait which separates the greatest from the good in the realm of sport. Within the recency-bias Kohli’s 82 which is worth more than a ton will have better recall-value but as time’s winged chariot races along, his effort will be juxtaposed with other knocks both by Indians and overseas stars and perspective will broaden. There is no mistaking that this is one of the greatest-ever knocks in cricket but if you want a number to it and cutting across formats, Kohli’s lightning will endure alongside a few other defeat-defying luminous efforts. But flip that question within just T20Is, then there is no doubt — it is Kohli all the way. For now.