Everything was going Australia's way, probably for the very first time in a crucial stage of World T20, when Virat Kohli unleashed himself on the Australians © Getty Images
Everything was going Australia’s way, probably for the very first time in a crucial stage of World T20, when Virat Kohli unleashed himself on the Australians © Getty Images

Australia were not that bad after all this ICC World T20 2016. The team that has achieved everything in the 50-over format and in whites have never replicated the same dominance in the shortest format of the game. They have received constant criticism, and at times there have been discussions as harsh as pitting Australia against Ireland, Oman and other Associate Nations in the qualifiers of ICC World Cup T20. However, they finally showed positives in T20Is in this version: they played like a unit; their fielding was commendable throughout the Group stage; while their bowling showed glimpses of an Australian side that once threatened the sides with an aggressive attack. In other words, they had everything in place, which made them ready to ultimately challenge for the one trophy they were still deprived of — World T20 — alas, and the cricketing gods had some other plans for them. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: India vs Australia, Match 31, ICC World T20 2016 at Mohali

Steven Smith and co. were clueless of what awaited them just when they were so close to a semi-final spot on Sunday. They have heard of him, they have seen his heroics numerous times and have been on the receiving end of few of them. On this particular day, however, he was taking time. In fact, he was was taking an uncomfortably long time, reserving the explosives for the end. The “world-class” top-order of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma was gone; Suresh Raina proved to be an easy catch yet again; and Shane Watson was all set to make his final journey in international cricket a memorable one. In short, everything was going Australia’s way, for the very first time in a crucial stage of World T20 since 2010.

Then Virat Kohli unleashed himself on the Australians.

India need 67 off 6 overs with Kohli at crease. MS Dhoni walks in. Kohli was on 35  from 30 balls. His last boundary was eight balls ago. The pressure was visible, or at least we thought it was. He failed to go for a big shot even in the next five deliveries. The asking rate was rocketing. The Mohali crowd had gone silent. There was the glow of anticipation on Australian faces. They had probably even started dreaming of the flight to Mumbai for the big match against West Indies (they will take the flight anyway, en route home).

Australia have won enough hearts with their brand of cricket. Unfortunately, on Sunday they knew, almost the entire PCA Stadium was cheering for India. That made their dominance over the hosts even more special. Maybe there was support, some support, from a tiny section of Indian fans at the ground and glued to the television sets and live ball-by-ball text coverage [I was one of these supporters] were vouching for them.

Until the 17th over, Australia had the control; singles were not causing them any harm, and that was how India were getting their runs. Watson had just finished his quota of 4 overs, picking two wickets and giving away just 23 runs. An unbeaten 18 off 16 in the first innings followed by 2 for 23 were perfect numbers in the what eventually became the final match for the Australian veteran’s career.

Let us turn back the clock by a year, to March 26, 2015, when Australia knocked out India from ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 at home. They were inches close to an encore, and the match being in India would have just been the cherry on the cake for them [I am simply trying to explain how special the win would have been for the Aussies].

James Faulkner was handed the ball for his second spell. Faulkner has been Australia’s bowler of choice in the death overs in the absence of Mitchell Starc. Faulkner came into the match following a superb fifer in the previous match against Pakistan. Faulkner bowls the back-of-the-hand deceptive slower delivery without visible change in action better than any Australian.

However, this time he was up against Kohli. Worse, he was up against a determined, ruthless, bloodthirsty Kohli. Before the over started, Kohli was on 50 off 40 balls (which was quick, but nobody seems to have noticed that) before he got the world to a still with his flawless batting that saw him collect 32 runs in no time which left India 4 runs away from an incredible victory in the final over.

That one over nullified Australia’s dream of lifting the World T20 trophy. Following their defeat against New Zealand, Australia dominated the likes of Bangladesh, Pakistan and came close to going past India but they could not. Despite being a better side with bat, ball and field for the first 37 overs of the match, one man, Kohli, stood between Australia and a victory.

India’s bowling was not disciplined. They conceded 14 extras, including 11 wides, which is a count that is unpardonable even in ODIs, let alone T20Is. Ravichandran Ashwin, whom everyone expected to play a crucial role with ball, went for 31 from 2 overs and was never recalled. Australia displayed a better bowling performance till the 18th over.

Nathan Coulter-Nile, Watson, Adam Zampa and Josh Hazlewood — they all chipped in. Unfortunately, they were up against the genius of Kohli at his rampant best. It was his day. It was a day on which he could have destroyed a spell even from the world’s best bowler, so there was little the Aussies could do about. Kohli averages above 60 while chasing in T20Is: the number boggles the mind.

Australia have won just 16 out of 29 World T20 matches (this includes matches against Associate Nations). They can be proud of the cricket they played in this tournament. They found an impressive spinner in Adam Zampa for T20Is; they have shuffled David Warner’s position a couple of times, who has adjusted to any position he was asked to; Coulter-Nile had decent numbers after three matches; and  most importantly, Watson found form, albeit a bit too late in his career. It was not the best way to bow out of the sport, but surely Watson will cherish his final few games for some time now.

It was Smith’s first ICC tournament as skipper. He is a quick learner, and with a promising team he has in his hands now, he surely has the ability to take this side forward in the T20Is. Warner, Glenn Maxwell, Aaron Finch, Zampa, Faulkner and Smith himself can form the nucleus of the T20I side under the leadership of Smith. It seems they have well taken a new way and look to mend their numbers in the shortest format in the coming days. All they need to do is to approach T20Is with the same seriousness as they play Tests and ODIs.

Australia can fly back with positives in mind; they were not poor against India. They just played against an unstoppable force that goes by the name of Virat Kohli!

(Sakshi Gupta, a reporter with CricketCountry, is a sports fanatic whose mantra in life is “do only what you enjoy.” Her Twitter handle is @sakshi2929)