A closer look at Kohli’s magic, and India are worth a final
“Imagine what [Don Argus] might say if he were asked to review India’s tour of Australia, which in the absence of a freak mathematical occurrence will come to a blessed end tonight.” So wrote The Age‘s Chloe Saltau on Tuesday, before India and Sri Lanka faced off in Hobart.
It was, all things considered, a pretty reasonable conclusion to draw. But one can imagine a wry smile on Saltau’s face when a freak mathematical occurrence was precisely what she got.
Of course, it wasn’t pure mathematics. It was physics, and chemistry, and biology, with more than a dash of psychology thrown in. It involved muscle fibres and adrenal glands, confidence and doubt, timing and high-speed calculation and parabolas of a purity to make an engineer weep with joy.
Fox Sports called it “the most extraordinary run-chase witnessed on Australian soil.” My cricketing compadre Andy Choc went New York rock: “Something like a phenomenon,” he texted, as Virat Kohli went bloodlust on Sri Lanka’s bowlers, Texas Chainsaw brutality with Crouching Tiger elegance.
“And they say one-day cricket is dead?” has become a defensive refrain for a number of the cricket-scribing fraternity over the past couple of years, as hype over Twenty20 sees other writers generate the same three articles lamenting the death of all that existed beforehand.
(Hey China – that big wall thing you’ve got going on? It’s old and hopelessly outdated. Get rid of it and build something by Grollo.)
In that period, each thrilling one-day game, and each astounding individual performance, has been held up in defiance.
Two double centuries, where four previous decades produced none. Pakistan and South Africa’s slugfest in the UAE. Sri Lanka’s 2010 triumph here. A World Cup that was an absolute beauty – the heroics of Ireland and Netherlands, the inspired New Zealanders, and MS Dhoni’s finest hour.
This summer’s triangular series alone has involved several classics. But each instance is viewed as an isolated incident.
What hasn’t yet computed is just how many of these isolated incidents there have been, and how social these temporal hermits actually are. Which is another way of saying there has been an awful lot of outstanding one-day cricket the last couple of years. Which is another way of saying that perhaps some pieholes should devote more time to the ingestion of pie than the production of sound.
I’m sure you know what happened on Tuesday night. India needed to win with a bonus point, and chasing one batting is a much clearer science than defending one bowling.
Dhoni sent Sri Lanka in, hoping to get them cheaply. Instead he watched Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara each strike one of their finest ODI centuries to carry their side to 320.
So 321 in 40 overs, for a team that fell in a heap chasing 250 in 50 at the MCG a couple of nights earlier. The Saltau hypothesis was a foregone conclusion.
But one of the things we love about cricket, aside from being the only surviving opportunity for adults to wear blazers, is the opportunity it gives to crusty old dudes to tell you it’s a funny game.
India were determined to funny it up indeed. Nothing concentrates the mind so wonderfully as the prospect of someone inaccurately quoting Samuel Johnson at you, and for the first time this tour, the entire top order contributed.
30 and 39 might not seem like the mightiest innings from Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar, but the two openers attacked from the first ball as they knew they must, flying India to 53 in 6.2 overs before Sehwag fell.
When Tendulkar departed it was 86 from the first 56 balls, and while the wickets were a drawback, the tone had been set. India needed 235 from 184. Kohli and Gautam Gambhir settled in to the real work of the night.
They scored few boundaries, working singles and twos. It looked a low profile arm-wrestle. For a time Sri Lanka seemed to be tying them down, with overs 11 to 15 conceding 2, 6, 3, 5, and 5. Angelo Mathews had bowled 3 overs for 11.
For the next six overs the Indians quietly took back the ascendancy, pushing their overs up to 9 or 10.
The halfway mark of their chase was perfect. 160 scored from 20 overs, with 161 needed from the rest.
But Sri Lanka again slowed the batsmen through Rangana Herath and Nuwan Kulasekara. From the 21st over to the 27th Sri Lanka gave up 7, 5, 4, 8, 6, 6, and 3. Not bad scoring on a normal night, but it didn’t look enough for India.
With the run rate easing, Mahela Jayawardene opted to take the bowling Powerplay in the 28th over, knowing he would have to start bowling Powerplay overs by the 31st at the latest.
From the third ball of that over, Gambhir was run out.
Advantage Sri Lanka. The partnership had been an optical illusion. Despite at times appearing slow, it had yielded 115 runs from 109 balls. Gambhir himself had 63 from 64, in a role that it would be a bit disrespectful to call an anchor.
Kohli had 61. India still needed 120 from 75. A long way from home.
From there, it was all destruction.
Kohli and Suresh Raina’s unbeaten partnership lasted only 9.2 overs. That’s 56 deliveries. In that stand, they scored 120 unbeaten runs. Raina took 40 from 24. Kohli? An easy 72 from 32 balls faced.
Never mind that they were facing the best death bowler in the world – the man who T20 specialists find so hard to hit – in the whiplash specialist Lasith Malinga. He bowled the 30th over for 15, the 33rd for 8, and then the crowning glory, the 35th, when the game was sealed.
2, 6, 4, 4, 4, 4, it went, as Kohli added 24 to his score in six balls. It left India needing 18 in five overs. They got them in 10 balls, closing out the match, appropriately, with two more Kohli boundaries from Malinga.
All up, Kohli had taken 44 runs from 15 Malinga deliveries. The normally devastating Sri Lankan had gone for 97 from 7.4 overs. He was bleeding at a rate of 12.52.
And Virat Kohli closed his evening with 133 from 86 balls, with 16 fours and two sixes. India had 80 balls to spare in the match, and 20 to spare for the bonus point.
It is difficult to emphasise the scale of the effort. If India had batted out 50 overs at their match run rate, they would have scored 438.
If Kohli and Raina had maintained their partnership rate, India would have scored 492.
And if Kohli had maintained his personal rate, he would have added around another 103 runs to his score by the close, finishing on 236. Malinga would have bowled out for 125.
The thing that really meant Kohli’s innings was special is that the rest of India’s tour so patently wasn’t.
People are quick to bring up words like ‘belief’ or ‘passion’, imagining they can see inside the heads of those they watch on television. Regardless of the motivation, though, India’s summer has often been limp. Even those ODIs where they’ve rallied have invariably been followed by another slump.
But this was a rally of a different order. This may well have been worth a couple of months of indifferent India matches on its own. Where it came from, we will never know. Whether it was just one brief flare in the darkness, we may yet learn.
India will have to wait on Friday’s result between the other two teams to find out whether they will play finals. Sri Lanka have beaten Australia in their last two meetings, so will be bullish about extending that into the silverware games.
Only an Australian win can keep India’s summer going. A few days ago, that would have been a most unappealing prospect. Now, there might just be something to be said for it after all.
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