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It was a challenging target, against a formidable attack containing the best bowler of the world. And India romped home with ease and plenty of panache. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the chase, especially the incredible way Virat Kohli paced his innings.
The semi-final against South Africa was the first time India was seriously challenged in the ICC World T20 2014. Yet, in the end the captain had the luxury to defend a delivery with a dead bat to give the hero of the moment the chance to finish things off.
And finish off he did, in magnificent style.
The Indian chase of a formidable South African total against one of the best attacks in the business was clinical, executed to perfection.
Perhaps the Proteans got a bit too many. The short boundary square of the wicket did not allow Mahendra Singh Dhoni to use Ravindra Jadeja at the death and the last few overs were a wee bit too expensive. As a result, the target was steep. But, when you play one of the best sides of the world, you budget for such circumstances. And Indians seemed to have done the budgeting with precision. With Dale Steyn charging in with 24 of the 120 balls, getting 173 was not supposed to be a walk in the park. However, Virat Kohli and the others made it look like one.
The square cut with which Ajinkya Rahane dispatched JP Duminy to register the first boundary of the innings set the tone. Indians were looking to clinch this with as few risks as possible. It was planned as a perfect chase and executed with surgical precision.
When Steyn sent down the third over, Rohit Sharma’s uppercut for six said it all. This was not an Indian team to be intimidated.
Yes, there was that customary moment of brain-freeze, when Rohit tried to send a climbing delivery from Beuran Hendricks straight down the ground. The result was one of those steepling skiers that have sent so many of his promised edifices crashing into crumbling debris. But, again, this was not a line up to panic and collapse under the pressure of a towering target even at the fall of wickets.
Rahane, that amazing player who can flourish in this bashball extravaganza with a perfectly straight bat, smashed a spectacular six over extra cover off Wayne Parnell. But it was the man at the other end who steered the innings with nerves that managed to remain ice cool even as the frenzied atmosphere hovered near boiling point.
The way Kohli paced his innings through the twists and turns of this riveting contest underlined the incredible talent and growing maturity of this phenomenal young man.
On the field, Kohli may be the emotive face of the team. The TV camera followed the cue of the commentators to focus on him repeatedly, marking him out as the man whose facial expressions can be used to approximate the scorecard. However, put him under a helmet, dress him in pads and gloves and hand him that willow; and the emotions freeze and cool calculating reason flows through his veins, surging out into the strokes. The nerves of steel can slice through the biggest crisis situations. At the current moment, not much in the world can stop him.
On this day, every time the asking rate climbed, Kohli was there, with his ways and means to bring the situation under control. Be it by pulling Hendricks almost out of the ground, or lifting Duminy over long on and Imran Tahir over mid-wicket. Or just placing the balls at will and with finesse, and running twos that left even the South African fielding unit scratching their heads. The risk involved remained almost non-existent. So excellently was the innings paced that he got to his fifty with just one four and two sixes, yet managed to bring up the landmark in just 35 balls.
It was more than clinical — it was an innings of a superb batsman at the height of his powers who knows exactly what he needs to do and also knows that he can do it.
Of course, in the home stretch there was that brilliant cameo by Suresh Raina that removed every doubt over the outcome. And with the end in sight, Kohli launched into Steyn.
It may be just Twenty 20, the crudest format of cricket. But, even on this stage, Steyn has proved that he is the best bowler of the world. And Kohli, in that 18th over, underlined once again that he was right up there among the very best in business. There were still 23 to be scored from 18 balls, 12 of them to be sent down by Steyn. Kohli nonchalantly bottom-handed a flick wide of long-on for four. And off the last ball, he came down the track and hit a shorter one over point.
This team is full of the exuberance of youth which has washed away the panic and perils of pressure, of chases in big games that used to haunt India for ages. And Virat Kohli is undoubtedly the vanguard of this new India. He loves to chase, thrives in the challenge and knows that he can do it. The face of a brand new generation.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
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