Kohli loses duel with red-hot Amir
Virat Kohli had not walked in this early in the tournament. In fact, Kohli has had to bat only three times in the first over, at No. 3. Two of those instances occurred when India were chasing: against Australia in 2010 and Pakistan in 2012. Both times Kohli took India home with a century. His 183 against Pakistan in the 2012 Asia Cup final remains his highest score in ODIs. Mohammad Amir was serving his spot-fixing ban at the time.
On Sunday, when Kohli got in, Amir was already raging. He had tempted Rohit Sharma with a full delivery angling away off the first ball of the innings. Rohit fell for the trick and was lucky not to have dragged the ball on to his stumps. The next delivery was similar. Rohit let it go.
Then came the beauty: an inducker that pitched on a good length, moved in with a straight seam and hit Rohit in line with leg stump. Rohit wasted time thinking the review could bail him out. Umpire Richard Kettleborough timed him out, asking him to depart. Amir pumped his hands furiously.
In walked Kohli. For India to win, Kohli had to win. He twirled his bat. He chewed gum. He took a leg-stump guard. Amir rushed in. Kohli survived a sharp, 90 mph delivery that screamed away. Even the world's No.1 ranked batsman looked vulnerable.
The next ball pitched on a good length. Kohli punched to the right of Shoaib Malik at mid-off. Kohli casually ran forward, confident the ball was speeding to the boundary. Malik, though, intercepted to send Kohli back. Kohli then moved outside the line of the final delivery of the over, flicked neatly and picked up two runs.
With the angle Amir was coming at him, Kohli was always in danger of getting opened up. Kohli was vulnerable when he faced Amir in the Asia Cup last year too.
On Sunday, off the third ball of Amir's second over, Kohli was unravelled. It pitched on a good length, forcing Kohli back. The ball moved away and took a thick edge of Kohli's open-faced bat. Amir almost took off in celebration. Pakistan flags erupted across The Oval even before the ball reached Azhar Ali, at first slip. Azhar just had to accept the gift that came his way. Instead, he whipped his cap in disgust after dropping a sitter. Amir turned back swiftly, after giving Azhar a glare.
Next ball, Kohli made up his mind. He moved a step across off stump, premeditating a flick. Amir did not change his plan. The ball was full, pitched on the seam, and angled away. Kohli was caught in an awkward position and the leading edge flew into the hands of Shadab Khan at point. The Pakistan fans erupted in joy again, this time not just momentarily.
Kohli stood in disbelief. Shikhar Dhawan tried to console his captain by putting his arm around him. Kohli was defeated. He did not hide it. In this tournament, Kohli had not faced a left-arm fast bowler of Amir's pace and intellect. Kohli has always stressed on how he visualises contests before a big match. He would have undoubtedly imagined what Amir would do to him. Amir shattered it in seven balls.
"Dropping Virat Kohli, a guy who chases runs for fun, he does it best in the world," Azhar said after the game. "So dropping him was a really, really big disappointment. But I was the most relieved man after he got out the next ball. That kind of batsman never gives you that sight again and again, getting out in two balls."
Azhar Mahmood, the Pakistan bowling coach, revealed that he asked the fast bowlers to attack the channel outside off stump and force Kohli to play early. Amir executed perfectly. "Early on when Virat comes in, bowl the fourth, fifth stump, take the ball away, he is a big candidate of nicking off," Mahmood said. "Amir had done it before, too. The plan was there, but it had to be executed."
Another key element in Amir's spell was his aggressive body language. According to Mahmood, that was a conscious strategy. "We are very friendly with the Indian players off the field and sometimes, we take it on the field as well. Yesterday during our discussions, I told them we should have a ruthless body language on the field."
Since his return, Amir has been carrying the burden of expectation. The image was established in 2010: of Amir rushing in with flowing hair, swinging and seaming the ball in and out, hitting edges, knocking back stumps, trapping batsmen in front.
Expectations were high after Amir's return to international cricket. The wait has been agonising. As he charged in to Kohli on Sunday, hearts raced. Something was going to happen. Mohammad Amir happened.
Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo