Win against Pakistan and plenty is condoned. That is the nature of this sporting beast and the Saturday night fever at the Eden Gardens was no different as India revived their World Twenty20 campaign at home in style.
The India-Pakistan match had been spoken about from well before the tournament began and the anticipation had built to a crescendo well before weather relented to allow the match to go ahead. The six-wicket victory was the icing on the cake for India after the unbearable pressure built on both teams.
India extended their domination over Pakistan in ICC tournaments, an 11-0 score has a great ring to it. But it was all about India’s master of the chase. The innings of Virat Kohli, and in the manner in which he took control after India were in danger of fluffing the lines for the second match in a row, will be up there with the best produced by Indian batsmen.
The defeat against New Zealand, on a rank turner in Nagpur in the first game, was unexpected, chasing another low total. That means they have to win the rest of the Super 10 games. The Eden Gardens pitch too was tricky, where the ball gripped and played tricks, and the spinners, even Pakistan skipper Shahid Afridi, extracted copious turn.
In the end, it was not merely another demonstration by Virat Kohli that he is a modern batting master, a natural successor to Sachin Tendulkar, a big brother in the batting line-up like the latter was. Bowing to the master waving the Indian tri-colour in the stands after reaching his half-century seemed a mere confirmation of that.
India will have to quickly regroup and get going in the tournament and Bangladesh are up next in Bengaluru on Wednesday. And this Kohli innings will inspire the other batsmen as India hope to return to the Eden Gardens on April 3, for the final of the tournament.
For the second time in a fortnight, Kohli snuffed out the threat of Pakistan’s pace-oriented attack. In the Asia Cup, he saw off the rejuvenated Mohammad Amir on a seaming pitch.
In Kolkata, the stakes were much, much higher. Preserving their wicket would have been the first instinct even for batsmen at the top of their game, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan failing to do so. Yuvraj Singh splendidly did that as he had in that Mirpur fightback with Kohli.
But with Kohli, it was again about rediscovering one’s game to surmount the situation. The concern of whether he will save his wicket, or score at a certain pace, all goes out of the equation. His ability to take charge and send the message to the dugout puts him in a different league.
Two years ago, on the tour of New Zealand, he had said how one can be aggressive even while defending. Over the last year, he has cut out his weakness outside off-stump, and each big innings has been as much about his skill as the way he has out-thought the opposition bowling.
Watch highlights | Kohli masterclass steers India to big win against Pakistan
Reduced to 23/3, there was no sign of anxiety in Kohli’s batting. He has this ability to take self-preservation out of the equation, and focus on how to lead the team’s counter-tactics. Against New Zealand, his dismissal nicking leg spinner Ish Sodhi’s first delivery led to India’s capitulation. He didn’t even let Pakistan bowlers have a sneak peek.
His manipulation of the bowling, playing well back and repeatedly late to third man to accumulate runs, finding gaps in front of the wicket or playing sensational cover drives against pace and spin was purely about setting the agenda.
For all his big innings, Kohli’s real gems have been these smaller knocks. In the Sri Lanka Test series last year, he did get a century, but the best was a 78 scored on a demanding P Sara stadium pitch in the second innings. It was a flawless, aggressive innings but purely focused on getting runs quickly to put India in a position to win with rain a worry. And he achieved that to level the series, which India went on to win by claiming the final Test.
With Kohli steering the ship, the rest of the batsmen will have to show that intent if India are to surmount Australia, the next big challenge in the final group game. In the high India are in after the triumph over Pakistan, it will be really difficult for Bangladesh to cause too much anxiety in the ranks of the home team.