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Match Analysis

Eight balls, 28 to get, and Kohli does a Kohli - it was just meant to be

It came down to decisions and risks, as it often does in T20 cricket - Pakistan's decisions, none of them wrong, didn't work out, and Kohli's risks were rewarded

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
23-Oct-2022
Haris Rauf is at his home: the 'G, where he has played his home matches in the BBL. He knows the ground better than anyone else on the field. Virat Kohli has ruled Australian grounds, but this is T20, not his best format.
All night, Rauf has played like he owns the turf. He has hit a six first ball. He has had the perfect night with the ball - the wickets of Rohit Sharma and Suryakumar Yadav. The latter done in by sheer pace. Lovely back-of-the-length or just-forward-of-it bowling. No boundary conceded over the previous 14 balls. Hardik Pandya and Kohli are struggling to get his heavy lengths away. He has brought it to 28 off eight.
A lot of batting in death overs is about not missing out on the bad ball. Hitters just practise hitting slot balls for hours because they know bowlers will invariably make an error. There are some geniuses like AB de Villiers who even put good balls away, but Kohli will be the first one to admit he is no de Villiers. He has been waiting for a mistake and picking up ones and twos to just somehow hang in there.
There comes a time, though, when waiting for the bad ball is no longer an option. At 28 off eight, India have reached that time. Kohli just has to go. And Rauf nails his length again. Short of a length, a sharp grunt that he often lets out when bowling slower balls, above the height of the stumps, just outside off. If you want to nitpick, you might ask why he has bowled the slower one when no batter has been able to get his quick, heavy lengths away. At the moment, Rauf probably feels he is getting predictable and needs a change-up.
What happens after the ball pitches is sensational. Kohli is deep in the crease, the weight is back, he has backed away from the stumps a little. A moment before the contact, it looks he is handcuffed and can't get any power into the shot. But he somehow manages to swing through it and down the ground for a six over the short straight boundary.
Hardik, who prides himself on keeping his emotions to himself, is screaming for joy. Ian Smith, doing colour commentary groundside, says, "That shot is nigh-on impossible for a normal human being." He, Kohli, who knows batting inside-out, is at a loss for words when asked to describe the shot afterwards. He knows all those repetitions in training over all these years have taken over.

****

We sometimes put too much stock into decision-making in cricket, because we don't fully understand the skill, competitiveness and fitness from the outside. We make decisions all the time in our lives, but we rarely reach the level of expertise international cricketers reach. It is easier to talk about decisions.
In T20 cricket, though, decisions have a much bigger bearing than in the longer formats. In Tests and ODIs, most of the on-field captaincy is auto-pilot execution of pre-decided plans. In T20s, one over is 5% of an innings. And, unlike batters, bowlers can't opt out mid-over unless incapacitated. When you bowl, it can be make or break.
In the 12th over of the chase, India force Babar Azam to make that decision. It is a layered phase of play. Spinners are not Kohli's favourite kind of bowlers. Both Pakistan's spinners take the ball away from the right-hand batters. The bowlers have been given a great start of 31 for 3 in the powerplay.
India send in left-hand Axar Patel just to discourage the use of those two spinners through the middle overs. Pakistan are prepared to bowl the part-time offspin of Iftikhar Ahmed - who has scored a superb fifty earlier in the day - to him, but then the first over of spin goes to legspinner Shadab Khan. And Axar is run out first ball. India have no more left-hand batters. Iftikhar doesn't bowl - he doesn't need to.
India's loss of four wickets, and Kohli's less-than-ideal match-up against Pakistan's main spinners means they bowl the next five overs for just 23 runs even though the conditions are offering spinners nothing. India used only four overs of spin when they bowled.
Kohli and Hardik have left the risk-taking to the last possible moment. If they let Mohammad Nawaz bowl his third over without damage, they can't cause any jeopardy in the mind of Babar, who will have six overs of pace left for the last six. Hardik takes risks, Kohli takes risks, they take 20 runs, and now Pakistan are in a similar position as their first match against India at the recent Asia Cup.
There, they needed to make a game out of nothing, so they had to hold Nawaz back. Here, India have shown they can take down Nawaz and end the game right there. This is also similar to when Pakistan batted: they took down Axar in his only over, but India had Hardik's four overs to fall back on. They didn't need to bring back Axar. Pakistan must bring back Nawaz. At some point. How long can they delay it?
Babar takes the route most captains do. He trusts his fast bowlers. He trusts them to either get a wicket or make the equation for the last over close to impossible. You don't want to look silly with an over from your best bowler left if the game ends in the 19th over.

****

Nawaz was Pakistan's hero in their last match - and second at the Asia Cup - against India. That was with the bat, but still, he was. He is a clever bowler. Ultimate utility player. He has bowled final overs before. Almost always because he has been attacked early on. Outside these two internationals against India, Nawaz has closed things out four times in official T20 cricket, winning twice, defending six and ten.
You have got to feel for Nawaz. Nobody wants to be that guy whose over has to be snuck in. India have decided he is that guy. In two matches out of the last three against Pakistan, they have put all their chips on him.
Fielding at deep square leg, Nawaz has started loosening up two balls into the 19th over. There are no mixed messages. Pakistan trust Nawaz. Nawaz trusts Nawaz. And it looks like Rauf is going to give him plenty to defend. The batters just don't seem to have the time to hit him into gaps, forget a six.
Then again, Kohli does a Kohli and brings it down to 16 off the last over. With short straight boundaries, against spin, you have to back the batting side. Nawaz goes funky, asks Mohammad Rizwan to stand back and bowls a bit of medium pace. Three balls in, having conceded three runs and having taken Hardik's wicket, Nawaz is this close to redemption. Then he bowls a no-ball. He follows up with a wide and then bowls Kohli with the legitimate free-hit but it goes for three byes. Then he comes back with the wicket of Dinesh Karthik. Then R Ashwin sees one swinging in, and stays outside its line to collect the wide.
It changes nothing about Nawaz. He remains an important player for Pakistan. He just doesn't have the cushion of a seam-bowling allrounder that, say, Axar has. He has tried to become one for one over, but has fallen at the last step.

****

Kohli has had three years that have tested his faith in all that he knows about batting. And he has trusted his game, his eyes, his fitness, his preparation, despite the lack of big runs. In T20 cricket, he has been convinced by the team management to let go of some of the caution. He has taken time to buy into it, but has done so even at a low ebb in his career.
This phase has only reinforced his game, his competitiveness, his will to be part of a winning team. When the runs didn't come despite all that, Kohli knew they were not meant to be. Batters have to be philosophical about it beyond a point, but how he managed to be so for so long only he knows. To the team management's credit, they knew they would need Kohli in Australia and backed him unequivocally.
That shot to the fifth ball of the 19th over is why Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid backed Kohli. The way he has managed to just keep the game alive for so long is why they backed Kohli. By the end of it, Hardik is cramping. He says he has never run so many twos.
At 28 off eight, Hardik says India need the next two balls to go for sixes. One just won't do. Kohli, 62 off 48, having been 15 off 24 at one point, then elevates what is already a classic match to legendary status with two sixes.
Does Rauf wonder now what if he hadn't bowled the slower ball? What were the deliberations inside his head before he went ahead with the slower ball?
To Kohli, what happened seems inevitable. He just backed his instincts and swung at two balls he had to hit for sixes.
"With shots like that you understand things were just meant to be," he tells Star Sports later. "They are freak shots that just happen. You can't give in."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo