India v South Africa, World t20 semi-final, Dhaka April 4, 2014

Kohli sharpened under pressure

Pressure is supposed to be an impediment to executing your skills. It hacks away and blunts it. Not for Virat Kohli

Why is it nearly always him? Why is it he is who is nearly always standing out there at the end of a victorious chase? There are others in this story, of course. There always are others. There is always a supporting cast. There is space even in this format for an opening dash. Likewise, there is also space for a closing sprint. But why is it he who nearly always runs and wins the marathon, for which there is a space even in the shortest format. Why does a high-pressure chase in a world tournament semi-final appear like an algorithm being executed at Virat Kohli's command?

He goes at a strike-rate of 163.63 and still, scores comfortably more than half his runs in singles and twos. He says a single is as important as a six in a format where run a ball is universally considered slow. A format in which the defending champions think only sixes matter. He does not hit his first till his 17th delivery, but that does not stop him from already logging more than run a ball by then. Notice the timing of that six. It comes immediately after a partnership has ended, and the opposition is looking to tighten things. But it does not come against the specialist bowler. He does it against the part-timer.

The closing sprinter does his job in the matter of an over. But the marathon is still going on. The opposition's best bowler will bowl two of the last three overs. Now there is no question of picking bowlers like it was earlier. So the best fast bowler in the world is taken for two fours in an over. Flicked over midwicket. Charged at and carved over point.

Skill. High-quality skill. Skill that nearly always comes good under pressure, when it is dearly needed to. Pressure is supposed to be an impediment to executing your skill. It is an impediment for most. It hacks away at your skill, blunts it, even though it has been honed over years and years and seems as natural as eating.

This format can blunt your skills even further with its everything-or-nothing, ultra-condensed nature. Look at what happened to Pakistan and West Indies, powerful, explosive sides both. They had to chase big runs or the tournament was over for them. They just bottled up. Forget going down swinging, they could not even summon themselves to make a decent attempt. The pressure had blunted them so much.

Here we have a man who does the very opposite. Pressure sharpens his skills. It gives him an extreme, eerie clarity of mind. He talks lucidly about continuing to pick up singles and twos to avoid that "rush of blood", that screaming instinct which will implore you to hit a boundary every time you play a couple of dot balls in T20. So what does he do? He just cuts off the dot balls completely.

Kohli faced 44 deliveries, of which three were dots. The first one was the first delivery he faced, a 145 kph lifter that nearly every batsman hopeful of batting for any length of time would play out safely. The second one, his 25th, was a superb slow bouncer which he tried to get away, but only managed an inside edge. The third, his 39th, was a quick outswinger that he tried to drive, but was beaten.

India have chased four times this World T20. Three times Kohli has been there when the winning runs were hit with scores of 36*, 57* and 72*.

Astonishing as just three dots in a 44-ball innings are, at least two of them were not intentional from Kohli, and the one that was intentional was also quite a wise choice. So barring that first ball, at no point during his knock was Kohli's intent to not score runs.

And just like his skills are sharpened under pressure, so is his intent. We do not need to peer into the make-up of his innings to know that. This intent business is always overpowering, in-your-face coming from Kohli, although he might want to temper a few manifestations of it when he becomes the captain. Kicking a ball in anger because a team-mate misfields. Waving his bat in frustration if his batting partner, a quite senior one at that, turns down a second run. Pumping his fist when he hits a boundary, especially the ones that appear to come at exactly the moment a big shot is required. Celebrating with raw passion after he has tamed another chase.

India have chased four times this World T20. Three times Kohli has been there when the winning runs were hit with scores of 36*, 57* and 72*. The fourth time, by the time he fell he had practically ended the match with his 54. Why? Why is it him again and again and again?

"Is that a valid question?" he says, before laughing, and then responding. "I think anyone in the world does the same things. Cricket is played more between your ears than your technique. If you can mentally be strong then you can tell yourself to stay on the wicket.

"Today, till about 20 runs, I didn't hit a boundary. It's about staying patient and staying calm and not thinking about how many runs or balls are remaining. It is important to back yourself which I think everybody does with time. Once you start scoring runs you start believing in yourself more. That's something I try to do and try to keep myself in that zone. There is no secret. Everyone wants to do well, everyone wants to score."

Which is what the point is. Everyone wants to, but he is able to, much more than many others are. Like tonight, when there was an able supporting cast. And there was King Kohli.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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