It was only 300. It could easily have been 320, or even 330. Eighty-three runs were scored in the last 10 overs, but only 27 came from the last five. India’s batsmen are unfortunately followed by India’s bowlers. They will have to pay for tapering off after a fabulous platform was built by the top order.’
Those who were fretting about India being 20 or 30 short at the innings break need not have bothered. Three-hundred might be the new 250 in ODIs. Three-hundred plus may have been chased down seven times even in India-Pakistan games. But this was a World Cup game.
Six times out of six now, the side winning the toss in an India-Pakistan World Cup match has decided to bat. Five times out of six now, that side has gone on to win the game. The only loss while defending needed one of the great one-day innings of all time from Sachin Tendulkar in Centurion in 2003, to chase down 274. Look at some of the other totals successfully defended – 216 in 1992, 287 in 1996, 227 in 1999, 260 in 2011.
If runs on the board is money in the bank normally, runs on the board in an India-Pakistan World Cup match is pure gold. There may be a run on your bank, but the gold will always have solid value. Arguably, no current ODI batsman illustrates this value better than Virat Kohli.
Kohli is every bit the modern cricketer. But in many ways, he is also like one of those good old ODI batsmen of the 1990s who built long, productive careers with reliable, efficient batting. He is flamboyant, but he is solid first. He can take apart attacks in a matter of overs, but he will first look to bat long. This approach brought him his 22nd ODI century on Sunday, putting him on par with Sourav Ganguly, who played 300 innings to Kohli’s 143 so far.
The afternoon before, MS Dhoni admitted that an India-Pakistan game was not a normal match, but that India’s endeavor was to keep the incremental pressure as little as they could. If you had to pick one batsman who could bat as close to his normal self as possible in a World Cup match against Pakistan, it had to be Kohli.
Kohli thrives on pressure and rises to the big occasions. A much younger version of him made a century in India’s opening game of the last World Cup. The Test captain version of him made twin centuries in his first game as leader on this very ground. He gets the loudest roars – louder than even Dhoni – when Indian player names are announced on the giant screen, and also the longest, wildest cheers when he walks out to bat.
During the post-match presentation, he was told that Indian fans now think of him as the new Tendulkar, and asked how he managed to live up to such massive expectation. “I just look to stand up to them because I hate to lose and I play passionately. I like the expectations,” Kohli replied.
It would have been extremely difficult. The team hotel is just across the river Torrens from the ground, and the players would have seen the thousands of fans shouting their way across the bridge hours before the game was to begin. The atmosphere in the streets around was infectious. It was hard not to get sucked into all the emotions associated with an India-Pakistan encounter.
Kohli admitted that it had been a tough couple of days to focus with so many people around the hotel. “But you have to stay in your space at the international level.”
It is an ability to enter into the zone where he feels comfortable enough to play his game under extreme pressure. Which allowed him to execute his role of batting through and providing the space for Suresh Raina to thrive at the other end.
It was also not an easy pitch to bat on initially, as Dhoni said. There was some variable pace and Pakistan’s fast bowlers were disciplined. But Kohli was able to do what was required – bide his time, rotate the strike, keep building. Not only was he able to shut out that differential pressure Dhoni had spoken about, he also utilized it to sharpen his focus.
Once India had the weight of runs on the board, that differential widened considerably. Many Pakistan batsmen went to balls that Misbah-ul-Haq said they could have survived.
It was not about the specifics of getting 320 or 330. It was about the sheer, immeasurable, psychological weight of a big total that Kohli had brought to bear on the chasing side. In an India-Pakistan game at the World Cup, that has proved to be too much to overcome.