The Wankhede Stadium is probably the one ground Virat Kohli might have complaints about. He has been jeered here, while captaining Royal Challengers Bangalore against Mumbai Indians in the IPL, and made plain his disappointment.
On Thursday, he can be assured that the Mumbai crowd will more than make up for that, when he plays in the World Twenty20 semifinals. With the sheer weight of his performances, Kohli has won the hearts of fans and foes alike. He is the toast of the nation following his match-winning show against Australia.
Most importantly, for Mumbaikars he has emerged as the rightful heir to Sachin Tendulkar.
Though the Wankhede is not as grand as Eden Gardens, the buzz is equally electrifying. And Kohli will know what to expect. The excitement in the build-up is like that of the 2011 World Cup final. Then too, Kohli had displayed steel for the big stage with a fighting partnership with Gautam Gambhir.
Kohli averages 92 after scoring 184 runs in four matches, at a strike rate of around 132. Going into the big game, most of the West Indies bowlers’ time and energy would have been consumed in planning for him.
So far, all tacticians have been clueless. That is mainly because the India No 3 relies on proper cricket shots, eliminating risk.
The same template of building an innings in the longer format is followed. He looks to play himself in, content with a strike rate of around 100 with focus on hard running and finding the gaps. He then effortlessly switches gears to a strike-rate of 145-150.
Full and wide
Shane Warne has suggested that bowling full and wide of off-stump could restrict Kohli’s stroke play to one area. When the bowlers have bowled into him, he has milked them on both sides of the wicket.
But it’s a strategy that has been tried against him. England bowlers had some success during the Test series in 2014, but Kohli has worked hard to overcome that weakness. Kohli has prepared so thoroughly that playing outside off-stump has now become one of his strong areas, where he smashes through point and in front of it.
There have been some great teams studded with highly-skilled players, but individuals carrying their teams to glory almost single-handedly is rare. Only a couple of names come to mind --- Diego Maradona leading Argentina to the 1986 World Cup and Shahbaz Ahmed carrying Pakistan to the 1994 hockey World Cup title.
Kohli is two knocks away from emulating them. Tendulkar fell short by one innings at the 2003 World Cup. It remains to be seen if his heir can take that extra step.
One man who can spoil Kohli’s party is Chris Gayle, West Indies’ one-man army. Skipper MS Dhoni’s plan will be clear – attack him through Ravichandran Ashwin and Ashish Nehra. If that fails, only a Kohli special can save the day for the hosts.