Every time India have stumbled into trouble this season, they have looked up to one man --- Virat Kohli. On Sunday night, his magnificent form and sheer determination once again carried India past some doubts and plenty of pressure as the hosts beat Australia to seal their World Twenty20 semi-final berth.
India’s master of chases had wrapped up the emotional victory over Pakistan at the Eden Gardens, but played an even bigger innings, his unbeaten 82 off 51 balls forcing the Aussies into submission at the Punjab Cricket Association stadium. India will face West Indies in the semi-final in Mumbai on March 31 while New Zealand play England the previous day in Delhi.
In Kohli and skipper Dhoni, India have two consistent match winners and when push came to shove and the hosts needed to win the virtual quarterfinal, the duo once again guided the team home. Australia had scored a solid 160 for six after electing to bat first and the final flurry of shots from Kohli saw India race to 161 for four in 19.1 overs.
Such has been the nature of wickets on which India have played so far that this was the first time in this event that India were chasing in excess of 150.
Openers Rohit Sharma (12) and Shikhar Dhawan (13) again perished after getting starts while Suresh Raina (10) also succumbed to his old frailty --- fending a short ball. Tottering at 49 for 3, it looked an uphill task for India.
They were in further trouble when Yuvraj Singh twisted his ankle, and despite being in pain he stuck around long enough hobbling on one leg to raise 45 for the fourth wicket along with Kohli.
As Dhoni walked in at the fall of Yuvi, the equation stood at 67 off the last six overs. It was Kohli who took over the responsibility of scoring runs quickly. Soon after reaching his second fifty of the event in 39 balls, he opened up and targeted James Faulkner. Faulkner was hammered for 19 off the 18th over.
With the equation down to 20 off two overs, Kohli wasn’t finished. He hit four boundaries in the 19th over bowled by paceman Nathan Coulter-Nile to bring India to within sight of victory.
In the end, Kohli, unbeaten on 82 (9x4, 2x6), along with Dhoni (14 no), helped India reach home with much to spare.
Australia were off to a rousing start with Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch going after the bowling. Skipper Steve Smith couldn’t have hoped for a better start as the openers raised 52 off just 3.4 overs. Jasprit Bumrah conceded 17 runs in his first over with Khawaja carting the bowler for four boundaries.
An over later, it was the turn of Ravichandran Ashwin to go for runs. As 22 came off Ashwin’s first over, Australia looked unstoppable. But Ashish Nehra provided the first breakthrough when he had Khawaja caught behind for 26 off 19 balls. After this the Indian bowlers, both pace and spin, managed to pull things back.
Hardik Pandya picked up the crucial wickets of Finch and later James Faulkner to finish with 2 for 36. Nehra (1 for 20), Ravindra Jadeja (0 for 20) and Yuvraj Singh (1 for 19) kept things tight. Shane Watson and Peter Nevill hit a couple of balls out of the park to help Australia cross 150.
But it proved well short in the end.