Hours after Ravichandran Ashwin spoke of an India-Pakistan clash as more of a border rivalry than a cricket match, Mohammad Amir walked up to Virat Kohli.
They shook hands, spoke to each other but before Amir went back to Pakistan’s nets, Kohli gifted him a bat. In the growing clamour for India to maintain their clean slate against Pakistan in ICC events and stay on track for the semi-finals, it was a brief but symbolic gesture.\
That it came from Virat --- one of the most expressive India players in recent times --- makes him a bit of an enigma but there is no doubt that come Saturday, he will not hold back against his favourite foes in this crunch World T20 tie. History says Virat reserves his best for Pakistan, be it the unbeaten 183 in 2012 (Asia Cup), the 107 in last year’s World Cup or the latest 49 in the Asia Cup against some fiery bowling led by Amir.
After that match-winning 49, Virat had said it was a very mature innings under pressure. “Hats off to the way the Pakistan bowlers bowled — especially Amir. It was a pleasure playing (out) that spell that tested me completely. To come out of that, it gives me a lot of confidence as a batsman.”
Virat was uncharacteristically patient in that innings chasing a low total, but on a seaming pitch. He gave due respect to the bowling and conditions and chose to grind out the difficult phase, something he could not achieve against New Zealand on a turning pitch in Nagpur on Tuesday. The Eden Gardens pitch has a history of being two-paced. Some deliveries can stay low. So, adjusting to the conditions quickly will be crucial.
On Friday, Virat took all the time to prepare for that. He spoke to former skipper Sourav Ganguly, the CAB president, while inspecting the pitch. He then spent around 40 minutes facing both spin and pace. Virat then went into the dressing room and came out without his pads and helmet on, to take throw downs for another half an hour. The intent to perfect his cover drive --- the shot that led to his fall in Nagpur --- was apparent.
It is no secret that India rely heavily on Virat to provide them that winning momentum. He has a repertoire of audacious shots but the cover drive is bread and butter. The first to arrive for practice and the last to leave, Virat did all he could to prepare for another Pakistan match.
Millions of fans will be praying he once again reaps success.
HT’s Twitter followers believe Virat will be the game changer against Pakistan. Out of 757 votes, 63% opted for Virat, with 17% for Mohammad Amir, 11% for Jasprit Bumrah and 9% for Shahid Afridi.