Five out of the six T20Is played at the Wankhede stadium before today were won by the team batting second. 10 out of the 15 completed T20Is in India this year were won by the chasing side. India had won only 25 percent of their games while defending this year.
It was evident that the home side will have to bat out of their limitations to put a competitive total for the explosive West Indies’ batting line-up. Limitations which had raised question marks over Virat Kohli’s team to set a total in the shortest format of the game. In Wankhede, the same venue where India had failed to defend a total of 192 in the semifinal of the 2016 WT20 against the same opposition, the eyes were on the Indian line-up, mainly on top three, who were put into bat first after Kieron Pollard won the toss.
The adjustments were required in the batting approach and Rohit Sharma set the tone on the very first ball of the innings by taking guard with a slightly opened stance. The idea was to counter the left-arm pacer, Sheldon Cottrell’s in-swinging deliveries. The small adaptation reaped benefits for the Indian vice-captain who was able to negate the in-coming deliveries from Cottrell in the first over before hitting the accelerator. KL Rahul, on the other end, proved his mettle in T20 internationals once again making it look like a hitting competition between the two openers.
As a result, India were 72 for no loss at the culmination of field restrictions, their highest powerplay score in T20Is this year with both KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma batting at a strike-rate of 200.
In a T20 batting masterclass, the duo remained unseparated till the 12th over hitting the Caribbean bowlers to all parts of the ground. Rohit, eventually, skied a back-of-a-length delivery from Kesrick Williams which was taken brilliantly by Hayden Walsh at mid-wicket. The Mumbaikar hammered 71 off 34 deliveries including five sixes which took him past the 400 sixes mark in international cricket.
KL Rahul was batting unbeaten at 64 of 37 deliveries at the time of Rohit’s departure. However, the best of Indian innings was yet to come. After Rishabh Pant went back after scoring a duck post his promotion to number three in the order, it was the Virat Kohli show once again.
Walking into bat with a little over seven overs left in the innings, Kohli stole the show from his openers. FOUR, SIX, SIX, ONE is what Kohli scored in the four balls he faced from Jason Holder in the 15th over pushing his innings straight into the fifth gear.
At the end of the 17th over, by which India had already surpassed 200 runs in the innings, Rahul seemed set for his second T20I hundred batting at 90 but such was the aura of Kohli’s knock that he had to take a backseat. In the following over, the Indian skipper struck his opposite number, Kieron Pollard, for back to back sixes bringing up his half-century in 21 balls, two balls quicker than Rohit. By the time he had faced 25 balls in his knock, he was going at a rate of 4.1 balls per six in comparison to 6.8 balls per six by Rohit (five sixes) and 14.5 per six for KL Rahul (four sixes).
Rahul was finally dismissed for 91 in the last over of the innings by Cottrell but Kohli once again ruined the Cottrell’s party by ending India’s innings with a six and thereby, taking the home side to a mammoth total of 240 and also raising his strike-rate to 241.4 in the process.
West Indies did not start well in their steep run chase. Having already lost Evin Lewis in the field with a ligament tear in the southpaw’s right knee, their innings sunk further to 17 for three in the fourth over the innings with a wicket each for Deepak Chahar, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami. Shimron Hetmyer and Kieron Pollard tried their best to keep the visitors in the game but a target like 240 is always out of the reach after a start as bad as that.
Pollard, however, kept the crowd entertained with a sumptuous display of strokeplay. In the 12 balls between the 13th and the 15th over, the right-hander struck 22 runs off 10 balls reminding the local crowd of his heroics while playing for Mumbai Indians in IPL and hence, keeping them bereft of early celebrations. Bhuvneshwar, after being taken away for 17 runs in the 15th over, was able to dismiss him with a short ball. A pump fist followed by gentle applause for the Caribbean skipper spoke for the significance of both - Pollard’s innings and his dismissal in the game.
Virat Kohli’s men eventually won by 67 runs, registering their first T20I victory in Wankhede while defending a total. Rahul was adjudged as man-of-the-match for his 91 off 56 balls while Kohli picked up the man-of-the-series award for 183 runs in the series at a strike-rate of 190.6.
The victory also took India’s win percentage while batting second in 2019 to 33.3, their joint lowest in the decade with 2015, once again highlighting the shallow bowling line-up without Jasprit Bumrah and the importance of the big three - Rohit, Rahul and Kohli - batting with an unforgiving approach in the innings.