Virat Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav. One a decade-old veteran continuing to push boundaries, both physically and skill-wise, in trying to rediscover himself. The other, a late bloomer at 31, and in the absolute peak of his prowess, with magical wrists and instincts that give him a split-second more than others to hit balls to corners of the ground as he pleases.
On Sunday in Hyderabad, it was this combination that put Australia under the mat, before Hardik Pandya sealed India's series win from being 1-0 down just four days ago. Kohli and Suryakumar added 104 off just 10.2 overs in a fine display of power, skill, wristwork, fitness and the inventive to raze down India's 187-run target.
This partnership was a tad different, though.
Teams tend to bring spin on to Kohli early in his innings. In all T20 cricket since 2021, Kohli strikes at just 108.85 in 40 innings against spin. In comparison, he goes at 137.81 against pace. So, when Aaron Finch brought Adam Zampa on within two balls of his arrival to the crease, it seemed a perfectly legitimate move. Zampa also had the wood over Kohli, having dismissed him eight times, the most he's been out to a single bowler in white-ball cricket.
Three nights ago, Kohli was out giving the charge to Zampa as he played all around a slider that snuck through bat and pad to crash into the stumps. Sunday was going to add another chapter to this match-up, and Kohli wasn't in the mood to allow Zampa to dictate terms. His first delivery, Kohli's third of the innings, was a perfectly tossed up delivery on off-stump. Kohli was forward and right to the pitch in a jiffy as he drilled the ball through extra cover to begin with a boundary. It set Kohli up for the rest of his innings.
"When Surya started hitting it like that, I kind of looked at the dug-out as well," Kohli said after the match to Star Sports. "Rohit and Rahul bhai both told me, 'you can just keep batting on' because Surya was striking it that well. It was just about building a partnership, so I used my experience a little bit, stayed back."
Australia, though, didn't just have to be mindful of Kohli. At the other end, Suryakumar was plotting carnage in his own style. One second, he was stepping out to leg, giving the impression he'd be going inside out, only to whip deliveries to bisect deep midwicket and long-on. The next, he was going deep into the crease, so deep you feared for his back leg nudging the stumps, to manufacture length to play his back-cut behind point. These two shots, in essence, are a peek into Suryakumar's approach - no leeway, no luxuries to settle into a length.
"It's absolute clarity in what he wants to do," Kohli said of Suryakumar's brilliance. "Obviously he has the game to bat under any sort of situation, in any condition and he's shown that already. He got a hundred in England; he batted beautifully in the Asia Cup as well. Here he's striking the ball as well as I've seen him strike. I mean, for the last six months he's been outstanding so it's just the array of shots, and to play those shots at the right time is such tremendous for a guy who knows his game inside out and has no fear in executing those shots."
At the end of seven overs, Kohli had raced to 25, with Suryakumar on 6. Within four overs, Suryakumar had comfortably overtaken Kohli. Soon enough, he brought up his half-century with back-to-back sixes off Zampa in the 13th, with Kohli having slowed down to watch the show from the best seat in the house. This wasn't to say Kohli went completely defensive. He took Zampa on from the get-go, walloping a massive six down the ground. More than the six, his manner of unsettling the bowler told you of how he'd meticulously planned to counter him.
"I kind of made up my mind to go after him today," Kohli said. "He's a quality bowler. He kind of tries to control my scoring rate whenever we play, and I knew he is going to attack the stumps, so I was outside leg stump already. In the last game, I was kind of disappointed that after hitting a four, I went for a double rather than hitting him for a six, so I'm making a conscious effort to strike big in the middle overs, so that it can help the team's situation."
Since he has returned from the break at the Asia Cup last month, Kohli has been visibly aggressive against spin. Shades of this dominance were visible in his takedown of Rashid Khan when he broke his century-drought earlier this month in Dubai. Such clarity can often be down to one's confidence levels. On Sunday, Kohli arrived at the ground an hour and a half prior to the rest of the team and had a 30-minute net. This was a reinvigorated Kohli working his way back up to top form and wanting to cash in on good form that seemed to have deserted him for a while.
"I've enjoyed my batting ever since I came back during the Asia Cup," Kohli said. "I'm really enjoying my process, really working hard on my fitness all over again. I'm excited to go to the gym, excited go to practice and just contribute to the team's cause. I know the last game wasn't a big score, but I felt like I hit two impact boundaries, so am happy with my contributions. And am not putting myself down if I'm not getting big runs every time for the team. I'm just trying to stay in this space."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo