Imagine having a net session after a long break. You might struggle for a tempo, fail to middle the ball, edge too many, try to hit the ball too hard. It may take a few hours or days for things to fall into place. Post that you might decide to let loose and enjoy the net session with audacious, carefree shots. For Virat Kohli, this net session was an international T20 and the time taken to find his grove was 34 balls.
Chasing a target of 208 – India’s biggest and fifth highest overall in T20Is - India lost Rohit Sharma early. Playing a T20I after two and a half months, Kohli began with an indifferent approach. As he later revealed, he tried to hit the ball too hard to not let the pressure build on KL Rahul on the other end. A batsman revelling in T20s by playing orthodox shots, Kohli even went to the extent of moving across his stumps to try a shot behind square – he failed to make contact.
At the halfway mark of the innings, Kohli was batting at 20 off 20 balls. India needed 119 off the last 10 overs. Rahul on the other end was going gung-ho. Starting with three fours in the second over, he hit four sixes in his innings– two slog sweeps off Khary Pierre, a top-edged hit off Sheldon Cottrell and a glorious swivel off Kesrick Williams, just after he reached the half-century mark. Looking in complete control, Rahul fell just after hitting his fourth six when he could not clear Kieron Pollard at long-off.
Kohli meanwhile ambled to 44 off 34 balls. As he often does, he adopted multiple tactics to fire himself. Cursing the mistime strokes, heated discussion with the umpires on borderline wides and no balls, signalling the staring bowler to go back to his mark were his methods today.
Rahul’s knock, a few streaky boundaries from Kohli and a first-ball six from Rishabh Pant reduced the target to 69 of the last six overs. The tipping point in Kohli’s innings came on the first ball of the 15th over of the innings.
Facing Holder, Kohli hit the first ball over the long-off fielder and over the ropes. This was the first glimpse in this match of the Kohli we have loved and known. He hit his next 44 runs in 14 balls to end the game for India with eight balls to spare.
Fired up by the six off Holder, Kohli hit the next ball over short third man for four. The following over proved to be the best of the innings – in terms of runs scored and entertainment offered. Kohli hit Williams for a straight four and then hit the shot of the match when he used his bottom hand to touch the ball for a six over long-on. A sincere batsman never forgets his dismissals. Remembering his dismissal against Williams in Jamaica, Kohli decided to pay back by enacting the strike-off celebration just after hitting the six.
With the required rate brought under eight, India respected Cottrell and hit just five of his over – the 17th of the innings. Pant, however, perished in an effort to use the left-armer’s angle, but not before an important contribution of 18 off nine balls.
Kieron Pollard brought himself on but the Kohli show continued as he whipped him for a six over deep mid-wicket. On the last ball of the over, the Windies’ skipper helped himself by taking a stunning return catch to dismiss Shreyas Iyer. Shivam Dube, next into bat did not get a ball to face as Kohli finished the game in the next four balls by hitting Williams for two more sixes – one inside out over cover and the last over long-off that almost went along the ground.
Delighted by his innings, Kohli patted his name at the back before raising his arms to soak in the applause of the crowd. India scored 113 in the last 7.4 overs.
Put into bat, West Indies, true to their status of defending champions, batted with aggression. A brisk innings of 40 off 17 balls from Evin Lewis resulted in a healthy powerplay. A half-century from Shimron Hetmyer (56 off 41) and a burst from Pollard (37 off 19) and Holder (24* off 9) helped the Windies post 207. At ground with the lowest catching efficiency in India (around 72%), India were let down by their fielders. They missed as many as six opportunities in the field. Three of the first three balls of the 17th over by Deepak Chahar.
West Indies bowlers compensated for India’s lapses by bowling 14 wides and three no-balls. Anil Chaudhary registered himself in the history books as he becomes the first third umpire to give no balls in an international match.
Until Kohli went berserk, Windies thoroughly tested the Indian might. With the firepower displayed by the Caribbeans, the series is very much alive as the two teams meet again after a day’s break.