India 160 for 6 (Kohli 82*, Hardik 40) beat Pakistan 159 for 8 (Masood 52*, Iftikhar 51, Arshdeep 3-32, Hardik 3-30) by four wickets
That front foot…
Just the way it lunges at the ball…
Even in this game…
Even against these guys…
On a day where only the extraordinary was allowed into the MCG, one of India’s greatest played an innings that may be their greatest ever in T20 cricket. It has to be because, in the end, they beat Pakistan, and it brought a tear to his eye.
How it ended
India went into the final three overs needing 48 runs to complete a chase of 160.
And they were facing a bowling attack that was drawing every bit of venom available on a pitch that offered scary pace and seething bounce.
All night Kohli was batting at a level that shouldn’t be possible. Like a 27th letter of the English alphabet. It was preposterous. Just like the two sixes he hit to end the 19th over.
The first one was a back-of-a-length slower ball climbing up above his waist. The only way he could have hit it straight over the bowler’s head is if his willpower actually bent the laws of physics.
How can you clear the biggest cricket ground on the planet when there’s no pace on the ball, and when it was meant to get big on you? How?!
An equation that read 28 off eight balls became 16 off six. And still mayhem lurked.
Spin was the price this match paid to be this awesome. Anyone that couldn’t put pace on the ball was being dispatched. And Mohammad Nawaz knew the same fate awaited him when he fronted up for the final over.
Kohli launched Nawaz over that giant square-leg boundary, and long before the ball landed, he was signalling for a no-ball. Pakistan didn’t like that. Babar Azam and the umpires were involved in a long, animated and emotional discussion. It was a marginal call, a full toss perhaps just over waist-high, and in the end, India got what they wanted.
A free hit, which Nawaz used to break Kohli’s stumps, but that didn’t matter. You can’t get bowled off a free hit. And, as the ball wandered away, Kohli sprinted three runs. Cue dissent from Pakistan once more. They felt the ball should’ve been dead once it had hit the stumps, but the umpires disagreed again. Rod Tucker signalled byes.
India needed two off one, but Kohli was at the non-strikers’ end. And somewhere in the midst of all this Dinesh Karthik had been stumped.
Two off one with R Ashwin on strike. Who writes these scripts?
Nawaz ran in… and bowled a wide down the leg side. WHO WROTE THIS SCRIPT?!
Ashwin, one of the cleverest going around, just sidestepped that ball, and then with one needed off one, he casually chipped the ball over mid-off. The sound barrier broke as 90,293 people at the MCG – and countless millions at home – all roared as one. Some in ecstasy, some in agony.
It now seems so long ago but India had another hero as well. His name was Arshdeep Singh. Last month at the Asia Cup, he shelled a catch in the dying moments of a very tight game against Pakistan and was met with the vilest abuse on social media. He’s 23 years old. All he wants to do is help his team win. And today he did just that, by removing Babar Azam lbw with his very first ball in a T20 World Cup.
Back then, this game was all swing and hoop and the lurid geometry the white ball is capable of. Pakistan were reduced to 32 for 2 in the powerplay. Then Iftikhar Ahmed and Shan Masood built a partnership. They took down R Ashwin and Axar Patel. Spin just couldn’t catch a break in the game, leaking 107 runs in 72 balls, eight sixes and nine fours.
Pakistan recovered to make 59 runs in the six overs immediately after the powerplay, prompting India to bring back their quicks, and within 12 balls Hardik and Mohammed Shami had three wickets. Shaheen Afridi came out at No. 9 and belted one NSFW six over the longest boundary of the ground at deep midwicket, pushing the total up to 159 for 8. And it was game on.
The best vs the best
Defending 160 is hard work, even for Pakistan. Since 2019, they’ve only managed to do it thrice in 13 matches. This had all the looks of being lucky number four.
Rohit and KL Rahul were given the short shrift. Suryakumar Yadav was bounced out. India were 45 for 4 after 10 overs. If they were going to win, they had to score nearly two runs a ball for half of their innings.
Talk about goading a genius. Kohli was 12 off 21 then. He would pick himself up with a six off Nawaz – a thundering strike after stepping down the pitch. Hardik at the other end got going as well. India managed 55 runs in the five overs from 11th and 15th and Pakistan knew they had to bring back their big guns.
Shaheen came on. But he hadn’t played any cricket since July 2022 and all that rust showed. A would-be leg-stump yorker turned into a low full toss – which isn’t the worst ball to bowl in T20 cricket, it still denies the batter the room they like to hit boundaries. But Kohli somehow managed it. And all it took was a twist of his wrist.
That loft over extra cover which beat three fielders – one running back and two converging on it from deep cover point and long-off – was like a catharsis. Not so long ago, Kohli confessed to faking his intensity. Here, he felt its embrace and it was all natural. And it was all good. So good that he actually punched the air even though India still needed 37 off 15 balls.
Hardik, though, was still struggling. The pressure to find those sixes was getting to him and he began searching in all the wrong places – like square of the wicket at the MCG. Rauf bowled a brilliant 19th over – the first four balls anyway – to push the equation up to 28 off 8. Then Kohli got on strike. He knew the straight boundaries were shorter. And he went for them. Got one down the ground. Then another behind the wicket. Poof, just like that, 12 off 2. To be that clear-headed, to be that calculative, in that situation, requires…
Actually, there’s no real word for it.
Kohli said it himself. “I have no words. I have no idea how this happened”.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo