Melbourne:- In front of 90,293 fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), India were in deep trouble at 31/4 in 6.1 overs. A mix-up in the middle for a non-existent single resulted in a run-out of Axar Patel, with Hardik Pandya walking in to join Virat Kohli at the crease.
Kohli and Pandya took some time before the latter drilled a straight drive off Shadab Khan and smacked two sixes over long-on and deep mid-wicket off Mohammad Nawaz, sandwiched between Kohli launching a glorious six over long-on to make it 20 runs off the 12th over.
Apart from collecting plenty of twos with Pandya, Kohli brought out his deft touch with a fine glance off Shaheen Shah Afridi, cutting off his wrists past deep-cover off Shadab and flicked past diving short fine leg off Naseem Shah to collect three quick fours, thus paving the path for him to be smiling with his arms aloft and dishing out a chasing masterclass in front of a packed MCG with equations going from 48 off the last three overs to 16 off the final over.
Captain Rohit Sharma, who was seeing all the action from the dugout after being dismissed in the Power-play, revealed that he was confident in the abilities of Pandya and Kohli and knew they can script an improbable win for India with their match-winning stand of 113 off 77 deliveries.
“When you have guys like those battle in the middle, you always believe that you’re going to get the scores because Hardik has especially batted in that type of situation a lot, and Virat with his experience, with the kind of batsman he is, we always believed that these guys can pull us off from that situation.”
“Of course, it was not an easy situation. We required 62 I think in five overs, which is not an easy task, and with their bowling attack, you will back those guys to get the job done,” said Rohit in the post-match press conference.
With Pandya being kept in check by the Pakistan pacers, Kohli had to turn the situation around all by himself and he did by smacking back-to-back sixes off Haris Rauf in the 19th over — a straight loft down the ground was followed by using the pace of the ball to flick off wrists over fine leg — to make it 16 runs needed off the final over.
“But it was probably one of the best I’ve witnessed the partnership, and then obviously Virat was brilliant. Those two’s success off Haris Rauf, I think that was the turning point. Not the turning point I would say; this is where the game actually came towards us a little bit because we always knew there was one over of spin bowling.”
“So inside in the dressing room we were thinking if we can keep about 15 to 18 runs in the last over, the guy is going to be under pressure to bowl that last over. He bowled that last over against us in Asia Cup and Hardik played some shots against him.”
Left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz dealt a huge blow on the first ball of the final over when Pandya miscued the slog and thick edge went to cover point. On the fourth ball, Kohli smacked a waist-high full toss high over a deep square leg fence for six, which was on a no-ball.
After Nawaz conceded a wide, Kohli and Dinesh Karthik ran three byes on the free-hit delivery before the latter was stumped on the fifth ball. Nawaz conceded a wide yet again when Ravichandran Ashwin sidestepped for a down leg ball to pass and would finish off the chase with a loft over mid-off to win a thriller for India.
“Obviously it’s not easy when you have to bowl the last over being a spinner and only 15 or 18 runs to defend. It’s not easy. It sometimes plays both ways. The pressure is always on the bowler, I believe, in that type of situation. We held our own pretty well in the last three overs. That was good to watch,” added Rohit.
Rohit also showered praise on Kohli for his astonishing knock which left people at the stadium and around the world enthralled. “From the situation, we were in, and to come out with a victory, I think it has to be one of India’s best knocks, not just his best knock, because until the 13th over we were so behind the game, and the required rate was just climbing up and up.”
“But to come out and chase that score was an extremely brilliant effort from Virat, and then obviously Hardik played a role there, as well. I thought both of them because these guys have played under pressure so many games for us, so they knew exactly how to handle that kind of situation, and they did pretty well in that situation.”
Asked about the difference he saw between Kohli on Sunday and his struggling with his lean patch in the last two-three years, Rohit brushed aside the theory that he was struggling with form or anything else.
“He was batting as good as he was, but with him, the expectations is always so high that even if he gets a good 30 or 40, people tend to talk about it. From the team management perspective, I thought he was in good space right from the Asia Cup where he got a month off and then he came back to Asia Cup.”
“He was fresh, got a brilliant hundred there, got a couple of fifties if I’m not wrong, and then leading up to the World Cup, we know the quality that he has, and he’s done so well in these types of conditions in all three forms.”
“He used his experience today more than anything else, staying calm under pressure, and we know how good he is when the score is in front of him. He’s one of the best chasers in the world. I thought that partnership between both of these guys, the hundred-run partnership, was a game-changing moment.”