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Chaser supreme Kohli seals it for India

Masterclass from India’s No.3 steers successful chase against Pakistan on tricky Eden Garden surface

20 March 2016 00:01 By R Kaushik, Kolkata

At various stages on Super Saturday, it appeared as if the biggest party to come to Kolkata in a long, long time would be a non-starter. Fortunately, the rain which made an unwelcome appearance some two and a half hours before the scheduled start relented enough to facilitate an 18-over India-Pakistan shootout at the Eden Gardens.

The expectant crowd of 61,377 – predominantly Indian, of course – watched this crucial Super 10 clash of the ICC World Twenty20 2016 with rapt attention and no little trepidation. After all, India had wiped the floor against New Zealand in their tournament opener, while Pakistan had warmed up for the big evening out with a thumping drubbing of Bangladesh.

Their worst fears seemed to be coming true when Mohammad Sami, a late inclusion, ripped out Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina in the space of two deliveries to leave India floundering on 23 for 3 while chasing Pakistan’s 118 for 5. However, there was no repeat of the Nagpur debacle, not with the master of the chase taking it upon himself to get the job done

Batting as if on a surface completely removed from the actual one, Virat Kohli produced perhaps the most satisfying of his nine half-centuries in a Twenty20 International chase, a truly sparkling crown full of the most glittering gems to steer India to 119 for 4, the six-wicket victory with 13 deliveries to spare extending India’s dominance over Pakistan in World Cup play and ending their Eden jinx against their perennial foes.

In his conquest of Pakistan, Kohli was aided in no small measure by Yuvraj Singh. Like in the Asia Cup match in Mirpur when India was reduced to 9 for 3 chasing 84, Yuvraj was an able ally but this time played his part too in a fourth-wicket stand of 61 off just 44 deliveries, the difference in the end alongside Kohli’s magnificent unbeaten 55.

No praise can be too high for the manner in which the India No. 3 adapted to the surface and the situation, his brilliance incandescent as it put the bright lights at the Eden to shade. Thrilling the audience that also included Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan, Kohli put on a veritable feast after playing himself in, neutralising Mohammad Amir’s threat systematically before stepping into overdrive without so much as hitting a stroke in anger.

As his innings blossomed, Kohli’s command over the cover-drive on a tricky track became all too evident, even as Yuvraj played one sumptuous drive off Sami and deposited Wahab Riaz over midwicket before perishing on the pull in the same over. Kohli was still there, imperious and unfazed, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni then applied the finishing touches, including one smashing flat six over long-on off the towering Mohammad Irfan.

India eventually won in a canter, Kohli showing how dear this knock was to him by throwing his arms up in celebration and bowing in the direction of an appreciative and grateful dugout.

It didn’t take long after played began an hour late to figure out that both teams – and all the pundits -- had read the Eden track wrong. Dhoni had elected to field, hoping to make capital of whatever moisture there might have been given that the pitch had been under covers for so long. Shahid Afridi had stocked up his pace options, bringing in Sami for Imad Wasim, the allrounder who can bowl left-arm spin.

It took just the eighth ball of the match to put the ‘true track’ theory to bed. R Ashwin’s second delivery pitched on leg and whizzed past Sharjeel Khan’s outside edge, forcing Dhoni to stretch well to his left to grab the ball. As if for effect, Ashwin again beat the left-hand batsman by a country mile with his next delivery.

Totally unprepared for this trial by spin, Sharjeel and Ahmed Shehzad were entirely becalmed, not laying bat to ball far too often during an opening stand of 38 that consumed 46 deliveries. The tempo of the innings never picked up until Umar Akmal was joined in the middle by Shoaib Malik. The two teed off against Hardik Pandya, then rode on that momentum to amass 41 for the fourth wicket in just 25 deliveries. Gold dust under the circumstances.

Ashish Nehra’s tidy first over and Ashwin’s ripper of a second had planted the gremlins in the minds of Sharjeel and Shehzad, and it was no surprise that the two openers were tentative in mind and body. There was not a confident contact between bat and ball until the 18th ball of the game when Sharjeel whipped Nehra to long-leg, but Pakistan was forced to take chances to keep the scoreboard moving, and it was always on the cards that a wicket would fall in trying to force the tempo.

It still took an outstanding catch from Pandya, running in from long-on and flinging himself fully forward, to latch on to a mistimed pull from Sharjeel – who had played that stroke without success several times earlier too – off Raina. Afridi, fresh off 49 from 19 in the win against Bangladesh, pushed himself to No. 3 but the move didn’t pay off as he followed Shehzad to the hut, both men falling in looking to up the ante and holing out in the infield and out.

At 60 for 3 with the 12th over coming to an end, Pakistan had to do something to get out of the rut. India’s bowlers were making excellent use of the track – Ashwin was unplayable in his only spell of 3-0-12-0 with the new ball – and Pakistan was rapidly running out of time when Malik, with a penchant for Indian attacks of various ilk, joined up with Akmal.

Immediately, Malik got down to business, sussing that Pandya could be the weak link in the Indian attack. He latched on to a slower one and sent it 93 metres over deep midwicket, a stroke repeated two deliveries later by Akmal as 15 came off the 14th over, and Pakistan had discovered the required impetus. The next over was a pretty poor one from the otherwise impressive Jasprit Bumrah. Twice, he took the pitch out of the equation with full tosses, and twice Malik hammered him for fours, first through the covers and then through square-leg.

Despite the mid-innings explosion from Akmal and Malik, India did pull things back at the very end. The last three overs went for 23 and Jasprit Bumrah bowled a sensational final over that yielded only seven. That was just the spur Kohli the chaser supreme needed as he kept India’s interest in the tournament alive.

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