A WhatsApp message doing the rounds just after India’s win against Australia read something like this: MS Dhoni comes to bat in the 14th over, Virat Kohli walks up to him and says ‘Dhoni bhai, we have to score a lot of runs’. To that Dhoni says, ‘You score the runs. I’m here for the winning shot.’
However objectionable the message might sound, that has been the way for India in some of their tense matches till now --- Kohli lines up the win, Dhoni hits the final nail. It happened against Pakistan. At Mohali, the script was repeated. In a few months’ time however, Kohli will do both. It isn’t his destiny. It is how he has shaped up to be in Twenty20 --- a technically gifted grafter who can switch to playing the big shots any time he wants.
Even a decade back, India were not great chasers because they never really believed in running hard between wickets. This lot believes taking singles and twos every ball can be as rewarding as hitting a boundary every over. Kohli is the only batsman who has amalgamated this theory best. His 51 ball-82 contained nine boundaries, two over-boundaries and 14 dot balls. It means Kohli took 34 runs as singles and twos off 26 balls.
Apart from the time Yuvraj Singh hobbled around after injuring his ankle, a large part of Kohli’s leg-work came in the initial overs when India needed stability and not glory shots. It isn’t as if he isn’t capable of those shots. But Kohli seems to be the only batsman in this vaunted India line-up to understand the need to take the game to the last over, something Dhoni had mastered with very little technique and flair but plenty of running.
Add to that Kohli’s mastery of the cover drive. He has perfected that shot so well that Australia were forced to try different areas. If only they knew how Kohli’s wrists could twist the situation. So while 30 runs came through the covers, Kohli also did score 25 runs in the region between square-leg and midwicket, mostly through flicks and pulls.
The collective class of the innings was such that it was easy to forget that Kohli tried to play on the ground as much as he could. Twice he was forced to clear the boundaries ---- and they are massive at Mohali --- because the asking rate had crept too much. The shots weren’t convincing but Kohli had timed them well enough. Apart from that though, Kohli played to his limits --- which aren’t much though. Of course none of that could have been possible without Dhoni’s constant words of wisdom and his quick running between wickets. At 34, Dhoni is now probably second to Kohli when it comes to converting singles into twos. And that says a lot about Kohli’s fitness level.
Kohli’s innings at Mohali was one of his best. There will be many more in future too. But his habit of anchoring India’s biggest, most tense finishes despite the presence of several match winners in the side is what makes Kohli a special one. Only thing is that he hasn’t hit the winning blow of late. But that’s just a matter of time.