The master of chases added another epic chapter to his burgeoning CV as India rode piggyback on Virat Kohli’s magnificence on Friday (April 4) night.
Faced with its first real test in the ICC World Twenty20 2014, India made light of what could have been a tricky chase, extending South Africa’s misery in knockout games to blast into Sunday’s final against Sri Lanka after completing an unexpectedly easy six-wicket romp.
India’s bowling, impeccable all tournament long, was smashed around to the tune of 172 for 4 after Faf du Plessis won the toss, opted to bat first, and led the way with a pleasing half-century. This surface at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium bore little resemblance to what had been on offer all this while, with stroke-making far less of a hazardous proposition, but even so, to score at more than 8.5 an over in a knockout game was never going to be easy.
On all ten previous instances in Twenty20 International cricket when South Africa had posted 170 or more, they had ended up on the winning side. No. 11 wasn’t quite as straightforward, not with Kohli taking it upon himself to shepherd the chase on a day when every Indian batsman made his presence felt during a winning tally of 176 for 4 with five deliveries to spare.
Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, preferred to Shikhar Dhawan as India went in with an unchanged XI, got the team off to the perfect start by adding 39 in just 23 deliveries, but it wasn’t until Kohli arrived in the middle that the Indian supporters in the stands and his team-mates in the dugout were convinced that a fifth straight win, and a second appearance in the final of the World T20, were a cinch.
Kohli loves the challenge of a chase, working out run rates and which bowlers to target, when to play within himself and when to explode. He was again at the top of his game, taking his time at the start but always working the gaps, always running hard, always on the lookout for runs if not necessarily boundaries. Despite the runs at its disposal, South Africa was strangely defensive as it extended its run of losses in knockout games to nine on the trot. It was almost as if South Africa sensed that with Kohli in this kind of mood, it simply had no chance.
South Africa fielded with characteristic zeal, but its bowling was flat for the most part. In its defence, it must be said that India handled its chase without panic, Kohli’s steadying hand and his extraordinarily sharp brain steering the ship with consummate ease.
Kohli put on 56 for the third wicket with Yuvraj Singh, who had recovered from his ankle injury, and 34 in just 2.3 overs with a charged-up Suresh Raina, who blasted 21 from ten balls, including 17 off the 17th over from Wayne Parnell, which had begun with India needing 40 from four overs. Mahendra Singh Dhoni had the opportunity of taking the team home but graciously allowed Kohli to do the honours, with a meaty pull off Dale Steyn which was negated as much by India’s composure as his own bowling group’s lack of intensity.
Despite Mohit Sharma’s second over, the fourth of the innings, going for 17 as Hashim Amla picked up two boundaries and du Plessis set himself up for an important knock with a crunching pull over mid-wicket, India had things under control for the first 11 overs. Bhuvneshwar Kumar had given them the early breakthrough by getting rid of Quinton de Kock in the first over, and even though Amla and du Plessis put on 35 for the second wicket, the rate wasn’t frenetic enough for Dhoni to start worrying yet.
Ashwin produced a dream delivery – Adam Gilchrist was impressed enough to call it the T20 ball of the century – to cut short Amla’s adventurous stay. Brought on in the sixth over, Ashwin began with a wide; his first legal delivery was the stuff of dreams, the carrom ball pitching a mile outside leg, spinning right across Amla, beating his intended work to leg and hitting off. Amla, as good a player of spin as there is, couldn’t believe it, shaking his head all the way back to the pavilion.
As if to show that that delivery was no flash in the pan, Ashwin bowled quite beautifully all the way through, the only Indian to command any respect from du Plessis and JP Duminy. His control was exemplary and, after excellent spells all tournament long, his confidence is clearly on a high. He had the ball on a string and used the carrom ball to great effect, each of his three wickets coming off that variation even if he was somewhat fortunate to get AB de Villiers, who tonked a long hop right down long-leg’s throat.
Amit Mishra couldn’t have picked a worse game to have an off day. A no-ball in his very first over pushed him on to the mental back foot, and from the time du Plessis smashed the resultant free hit ball over cover, Mishra made no impression on the batsmen. India had hoped for Mishra’s induction into the attack to help it wrest control, instead, the script panned out in the exact opposite way as South Africa loosened the grip and sped away. By the end, Dhoni didn’t have enough confidence to even bowl out one of his trump cards thus far.
The floodgates truly opened in the 12th over, Raina’s third. Dhoni had taken off Ravindra Jadeja after two economical overs – despite figures of 2-0-8-0, Jadeja didn’t bowl again with at least one left-hander in the middle and two occupying the crease for the last four-and-a-half overs – and Raina had begun decently enough, but du Plessis scored most of the 16 runs that came off the occasional offie’s third over. In the next over, South Africa’s captain brought up his half-century off 36 deliveries while Duminy, a little out of sorts until then, decided it was time to up the tempo.
Duminy had dawdled to 10 off 19 when Mishra offered him a juicy full toss, deposited deep into the stands behind mid-wicket. There was a ferocious sweep in the same over that went for 17. In the space of two overs, South Africa had plundered 33 and clearly, India was feeling the heat.
Ashwin temporarily staunched the bleeding by getting rid of du Plessis and the dangerous de Villiers, but there was no respite for India. Duminy kept teeing off and David Miller applied the finishing touches while adding 43 in just 27. India, relatively ordinary in the field, had conceded way too many in a knockout game, but with Kohli in its midst, it really didn’t have too much cause for concern.