Virat Kohli juggles vigour and vulnerability as Pakistan smell blood against its old tormentor in T20 World Cup clash | Crickit

Virat Kohli juggles vigour and vulnerability as Pakistan smell blood against its old tormentor in T20 World Cup clash

Jun 09, 2024 09:29 AM IST

Virat Kohli has always been a thorn in Pakistan's flesh but the Men in Green have never had a better shot to get rid of him than now.

One of VVS Laxman’s few cricketing regrets, apart from never playing in a World Cup, is not making enough runs when India were not under pressure. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Laxman didn’t amass ‘easy’ runs, if there is any such thing in international cricket. Many of his stellar knocks came with India pushed to a corner, and not often did he kick on to make a big score when he walked in at, say, 230 for three.

Virat Kohli tunes up for India vs Pakistan blockbuster.(ANI)
Virat Kohli tunes up for India vs Pakistan blockbuster.(ANI)

Virat Kohli has often channelled his inner Laxman, though he has also perfected the knack of making runs even in the absence of pressure. Kohli loves a platform as much as anyone else, but even without one, he has been an outstanding batter for a decade and a half, scoring runs against everyone everywhere in all formats.

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One of the former captain's favourite opponents is a team he doesn’t play often enough. Since his India debut in August 2008, Kohli has represented India 523 times in the three international formats; only 26 of them have been against Pakistan – 16 in One-Day Internationals, 10 in Twenty20 Internationals.

Those sporadic faceoffs have been more than enough for the aesthetically pleasing right-hander to leave an indelible impression in the hearts and minds of cricket followers on both sides of the border, and elsewhere in the world. In 16 ODIs, he has stacked up 678 runs at an average of 52.15 and a strike-rate of 100.29, courtesy three hundreds and two half-centuries. Ten T20Is have fetched 488 runs at a staggering 88.33 and a strike-rate of 123.85. On an average, he has made a half-century every second T20 innings against Pakistan. Suffice to say that the sight of the old foe stokes his competitive juices like nothing else.

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Kohli's red-hot intensity is a thing of absolute wonderment. When he is geed up for battle, which is every time he takes the field, it is obvious for even to the most casual onlooker to see. There isn’t just a steely determination in his eyes, he throws himself around with scant regard for physical safety and his feelings nestle an epidermal layer away from sweeping everyone around him in a tidal wave of emotional tsunami. Astonishingly, even someone as driven and committed manages to find an extra gear against Pakistan. How does he do it, man, time after time, no matter if those times aren’t as frequent as the connoisseurs would like?

Kohli is one of the great examples of not allowing his emotions to get the better of him. The outlet he has found to let them out is a positive and efficient one; he doesn’t let Pakistan get under his skin but he can annoy and irritate and rankle, even though he enjoys an excellent relationship with several players in the Babar Azam-led outfit.

Why Virat Kohli excels against Pakistan

It’s in being able to keep the emotions from clouding his decision-making that Kohli has shown himself to be a cut above every other batter of his generation. His swagger indicates confidence, his body language oozes aggression, his movements point to purpose. Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf and Naseem Shah and Mohammad Amir compel him to be switched on from ball one, a trait that comes easily to someone with so much pride in his performance.

World Cup faceoffs between the sides energise the 35-year-old even more; four such 50-over games have produced scores of 9, 107, 77 and 16 while in T20 World Cups, the corresponding numbers are 78*, 36*, 55*, 57 and 82*. That’s 308 T20 World Cup runs in five innings, once dismissed – in India’s only loss to Pakistan across white-ball World Cups, in Dubai in 2021. That 82 not out at the MCG was the stuff of genius which single-handedly muscled India home, an extraordinary backfoot straight six off Rauf not just the stroke of the tournament in Australia but a strong contender for the shot of the century award.

Pakistan have tried their damnedest to get Kohli out early, because they believe that is half the job done, but the champion batter has had other ideas. On Sunday at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium, they will believe they have a greater chance of getting rid of him quickly because he will be opening the batting against them for the first time ever. The new ball, and Afridi, they are convinced, will do the trick. Or at least, so they would like to be convinced. In their heart of hearts, they know they will need a special delivery or a slice of luck to see Kohli’s back because thus far, most of the specials have been emanating from his scything, punishing willow.

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