The undisputed greatest T20 cricketer India has produced has just become greater by playing his greatest ever innings in the format against his biggest rivals in the grandest stage that exists in front of the largest crowd ever witnessed in a 20-over match.
Pardon my quirky attempt at summarizing the madness that unfolded at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It’s just that hours have passed and it’s still hard to fathom what went down at the 'G.
I don’t think any of us truly realize what we’ve just witnessed. There’s a good chance that, in our lifetime, we might never live through another game of cricket like this ever again.
Cricket games rarely see crowds like these; in history, less than a percent of matches have seen attendance over 90,000. This alone establishes the encounter as a rare one. Then there’s the icing on the cake: India vs Pakistan. Two rarities have already come together.
But we’re only getting started.
In front of that capacity crowd, these two rivals go on to play arguably the most dramatic, see-saw, nerve-wracking match in T20 World Cup history. T20 history, even.
On top of all this, the encounter witnesses an all-time-great cricketer further polish his legacy by playing what he himself described as his best knock ever, snatching victory for his side from the jaws of defeat, doing it single-handedly.
What are the odds?
This is as close to ‘never before, never again’ as it can get.
But me and you, we both know that, years on, nobody is going to talk about the occasion. Or the game. Or the crowd. Or the sheer chaos that unfolded.
Five years down the line, one thing, and one thing only, will be spoken about.
“I travel in worlds you can't even imagine! You can't conceive of what I'm capable of! I'm so far beyond you! I'm like a god in human clothing! LIGHTNING BOLTS SHOOT FROM MY FINGERTIPS!”
The quote above is from the series ‘Better Call Saul’. It’s an angry rant from the protagonist Jimmy McGill (aka Saul Goodman) who goes off on an associate, right in the middle of the DA’s office, after having his ego bruised.
Forget the original line’s context. It’s just a shame that we did not hear these exact words from Virat Kohli in the aftermath of his innings. Because, let’s face it: all of the above is true.
He travels in worlds we cannot imagine. None of us can conceive what he’s capable of. He shoots lightning bolts from his fingertips.
He is a god in human clothing.
If anyone didn’t feel this way heading into Sunday’s encounter, Kohli made sure they did by the time Ravichandran Ashwin lofted Mohammad Nawaz over the head of mid-off to seal an improbable victory for India.
There are good knocks. There are ridiculously good knocks. There are great knocks.
Then there’s what Kohli played on Sunday against Pakistan.
A knock that is in a league of its own; a knock that deserves its own place in the history books.
Usually, great knocks have something that make them standout. It might be the overall context. Or the game situation. Or perhaps the innings construction. Maybe even stroke-making. In Kohli’s case, it was astonishingly all of the above.
Picture this: for the second year running, India were staring at humiliation at the hands of their archrivals, only this time with a supposedly ‘reformed’ side. Three of the top four batters failed when it mattered, again, and at 31/4 chasing 160 on a bowler-friendly MCG wicket, they were well and truly staring down the barrel.
Without exaggeration, at stake was not only the team’s World Cup hopes, but also Rohit Sharma’s reputation as skipper and Rahul Dravid’s stature as a coach.
It was under these circumstances that Kohli decided to play the greatest T20 knock of his career, besting his efforts in Mohali from six years ago.
"Till today I have always said Mohali was my best innings, against Australia: I got 82 off 52 (51). Today I got 82 off 53. So they are exactly the same innings, but I think today I will count this one higher because of the magnitude of the game and what the situation was," Kohli said after the game.
At the halfway point of the chase, India were 45/4, still needing 116 more off the final 10. On a tacky wicket against a fired-up, well-rounded attack, victory simply did not seem probable. Not least because Kohli struggled immeasurably in the first phase, drudging to 12 off his first 21 balls.
At this point, playing for NRR, aiming to keep damage at a minimum, unironically seemed like a not-so-bad option. Kohli, though, was having none of it. He believed. And he was determined to take the side home.
The turning point for both India and Kohli, in the chase, came in the 12th over. Hardik Pandya, having played it safe himself for the first 15 balls, slammed Nawaz for a six and Kohli followed his partner’s lead, pocketing a maximum himself three balls later: a mammoth hit over long-on.
The over cost 20 and brought India right back into the chase, but something more important happened: Kohli got unshackled.
Remarkably, having amassed 15 off his first 23 balls, Kohli would go on to score 67 off his next 30.
It was the manner in which he obliterated the Pakistan bowling in the final 8 overs, launching a calculated yet brutal assault, that made you go, “Okay, yes. THIS IS PEAK KOHLI OMGGGG!!”
Peak Kohli, indeed.
Because only peak Kohli can ever pull off something like THAT in the 19th over against Haris Rauf. No other batter in history. None.
Yes, THAT. Consecutive sixes, both off the back-foot, with the team’s backs fully against the wall. Against who? The man who entered the contest with the second-best economy in the death overs in 2022. The same man whose previous 10 balls in the game had yielded 9 runs.
The two strokes were in fact so goddamn outrageous that they not only broke the internet, but forced the broadcasters to ask about them to the man himself. Twice.
“It's just instinctively I saw it, told myself to stay still. The one at long-on was unexpected, it was a back-of-a-length slower ball. The fine leg one, I just threw my bat at it,” Kohli would say about the sixes.
With the two sixes, then, 28 off 8 balls became 16 off 6. A near-impossible task all of a sudden became achievable.
But given how ‘so close, yet so far’ has been a recurring theme in Kohli’s T20 World Cup career, you feared that India may yet fall short. Rotten luck, fate etc. You know.
And when Pandya skied one off Nawaz straight into the hands of Babar Azam, it did seem like history was going to repeat itself.
“Kohli let down by his teammates in a T20WC? Oh, colour me surprised.”
But as it turned out, for once, fate had Kohli in its good books. An untimely no-ball, a pair of wides and three byes off the free-hit, after the ball crashed into the stumps, was enough for India to get home.
Even Kohli could not believe what had just happened.
“I have no words, no idea how that happened. I am really lost for words.”
But he was right. It was a day where it felt like it was meant to be.
“Standing here I just feel like it was meant to be.”
In our T20WC diaries story, we told fate how the ball was in its court. How it had to make amends and redeem itself by giving Kohli some good fortune, something to smile about, after putting him through endless tragedy in T20 World Cups.
Well, fate almighty has listened. Still a long way to go, but Sunday was a step in the right direction.