Chasing the target under pressure is one of the most difficult tasks in international cricket, especially in the limited-overs formats, and Virat Kohli’s latest masterclass, an unbeaten 51-ball 82, makes him arguably the best chaser of at least this generation.
His form and confidence whatever the conditions or opposition was again on display against Australia in the World Twenty20 match that had been billed as a quarterfinal. The Super 10 Group 2 tie between the top contenders had come down to that after both were upstaged by New Zealand.
Now, a look at the whole approach to chasing. In One-day Internationals, teams used to bat second often because they were forced to. It is not often that they embraced the idea of chasing. For instance, under Rahul Dravid’s captaincy a decade ago, India successfully chased a series of matches. A young Suresh Raina was one of those who made that happen with a calm head about him.
But India have not been natural chasers. The sheer pressure the team comes under, with a mountain of expectations, adds to the difficulties the opposition bowlers and fielders impose on the Indian batsmen. That is where Kohli has turned into a Superman who can demolish any opposition, considering the form and class he combines.
In this tournament, India, pretty much like West Indies, have preferred to chase. Against Bangladesh, where India snatched a nail-biting one-run win in Bengaluru, the toss didn’t fall MS Dhoni’s way. That was the case on Sunday night too, but Australia skipper Steve Smith elected to bat.
He wasn’t really wrong. One delivery from Bumrah, pitched well short, suddenly kept low and struck Glenn Maxwell below the waist. It seemed to shake the confidence out of a batsman who usually has many shots for every delivery. It sowed doubts in the minds of other Aussie batsmen as well.
Still chasing the target needs a few hands and minds of steel. That is where Kohli has allowed Dhoni to chase without a care in the world. Kohli has been batting at a different zone from his team mates, his huge reservoir of patience calming things down at the start of his innings, before his sheer class taking over. His bat speed and precise calculation of field placements helps Kohli get his runs wherever he wants.
That was the case when he decided to accelerate against Australia. For other batsmen in this format, hitting big sixes is a way to ease pressure. Kohli, on the other hand, plays late and on either side of the pitch.
This season, Kohli has been the single biggest factor in India’s run of success. He had declared that he will not look to hit those big sixes, but the ease with which he manipulates the field makes hitting maximum look like a desperate tactic rather than establishing control.
In the Asia Cup final against Bangladesh, and in the high-voltage game against Pakistan, it was Kohli who stepped up to lead the chase. It is almost as if the opposing bowlers know they need luck to get Kohli. Planning doesn’t seem to get them anywhere.
On Sunday night against Australia, he basically took one delivery to settle down, and then he was off. He again looked calmness personified. And Kohli has smartly deflected pressure off himself by quickly attributing such chases to Dhoni or Yuvraj or the other batsmen.
After the knock against Pakistan at the Eden Gardens, he spoke about a normal heart rate under pressure. In Mohali, he explained how Dhoni came and calmed him down and that it was a collective batting effort.
Kohli’s average while chasing is well over 80, and that is phenomenal. His bat speed, hand-eye coordination and fitness apart, he is also very quick to spot the field placements, make mental calculations to pick his scoring areas.
Along with technique and tactics, Twenty20 also teaches players to handle pressure be it for country or club.
India have just got the perfect package deal.