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Sunday, December 4, 2022

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Recent Match Report – Pakistan vs India 16th Match, Group 2 2022/23

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 forefoot…

Just as he lunges for the ball…

Even in this game…

Even against these guys…

Virat Kohli is not a man. He is a feeling. Therefore, every time he goes out to fire, he lifts the whole world with him. Or at least about a billion of its people.

In a day when only the extraordinary was allowed into the MCG, one of India’s greatest innings was arguably their best ever in T20 cricket. It must be because they finally beat Pakistan, and he got tears in his eyes.

How it ended?
India went into the last three overs and needed 48 runs to complete a 160 chase.

And they faced a bowling attack that gobbled up every bit of venom available on a field that offered terrifying pace and seething bounce.

Haris Rauf was more of a thunderbolt than flesh and bone. He was the one who brought Pakistan back in this riotous game. So of course he had to go.

Kohli hit all night at a level that was not possible. Like a 27th letter of the English alphabet. It was ridiculous. Just like the two sixes he hit to finish 19th over.

The first was a slow, slow ball that climbed above his waist. The only way he could have hit it right over the bowler’s head is if his willpower bent the laws of physics.

How can you clean up the biggest cricket ground in the world if there’s no speed on the ball, and when it was meant to be big for you? How?!

An equation that read 28 of eight balls became 16 of six. And still chaos lurked.

Spin was the price this match paid for being so great. Anyone who couldn’t set the pace was sent away. And Mohammad Nawaz knew that the same fate awaited him when he was front and center for the final.

He started it well enough, taking the wicket of Hardik Pandya, but when he encountered the unstoppable force of the day, everything changed.

Kohli launched Nawaz over that giant square-legged border, signaling for a no-ball long before the ball landed. Pakistan didn’t like that. Babar Azam and the umpires engaged in a long, animated and emotional discussion. It was a marginal call, a full toss maybe only to their waists, and in the end India got what they wanted.

A freestyle, which Nawaz used to break Kohli’s stumps, but it didn’t matter. You cannot be thrown out of a free hit. And as the ball wandered, Kohli sprinted for three runs. Cue dissent from Pakistan once more. They thought the ball should have been dead after hitting the stumps, but again the umpires disagreed. Rod Tucker waved goodbye.

India needed two from one, but Kohli was on the side of the non-attackers. And somewhere in the middle of it all, Dinesh Karthik was stunned.

Two for one with R Ashwin on strike. Who writes these scripts?

Nawaz ran in… and threw a wide down the leg side. WHO WROTE THIS SCRIPT?!

Ashwin, one of the smartest around, went right around that ball, and when he needed one, he casually shot the ball over the middle. The sound barrier broke when 90,293 people at the MCG — and countless millions at home — all roared as one. Some in ecstasy, some in agony.

Meanwhile, Kohli was on his knees – just like in Mohali, 2016. He hit the turf. This was new. And when he came up, he was harassed. He allowed his teammates their time with him, but then wriggled away so he could be alone. Or well, as alone as he could be with a stadium full of people singing his name. He stared at the night sky, with his right hand up and his index finger up. Did he say thank you? He said, ‘Ah, so that’s why I went through that slump in shape? Well, fair enough. Good deal.’ And then suddenly his thoughts were interrupted as the captain of the Indian cricket team stormed onto the pitch and lifted him clean from his feet. When Rohit Sharma came to the presentation, he had no voice.

The other hero

It seems so long ago now, but India had another hero too. His name was Arshdeep Singh. Last month at the Asian Cup, he fired a catch in the closing moments of a very tight match against Pakistan and faced the nastiest insults on social media. He is 23 years old. All he wants to do is help his team win. And today he did just that, removing Babar Azam lbw with his first ever ball in a T20 World Cup.

Back then, this game was all swing and hoop and the lurid geometry the cue ball is capable of. Pakistan was reduced to 32 for 2 in the power play. Then Iftikhar Ahmed and Shan Masood built a partnership. They took down R Ashwin and Axar Patel. Spin just couldn’t take a break from the game, leaking 107 runs in 72 balls, eight sixes and nine fours.

Pakistan recovered and made 59 runs in the six overs immediately after the power play, prompting India to bring their paces back, and within 12 balls Hardik and Mohammed Shami had three wickets. Shaheen Afridi came in at number 9 and hit an NSFW six over the longest edge of the ground at deep midwicket, bringing the total to 159 for 8. And it was game on.

The best vs the best
Defending is hard work, even for Pakistan. Since 2019, she has only managed it three times in 13 matches. This looked like a lucky number four.

Rohit and KL Rahul got short shrift. Suryakumar Yadav was kicked out. India was 45 for 4 after 10 overs. If they wanted to win, they had to score nearly two runs per ball half of their innings.

Talk about titillating a genius. Kohli was then 12 on 21. He would pick himself up with a six on Nawaz – a thunderous strike after he left the field. Hardik on the other hand also got to work. India got 55 runs in the five overs of the 11th and 15th and Pakistan knew they had to bring back their big guns.

Shaheen came up. But he hadn’t played cricket since July 2022 and all that rust was showing. A potential leg-stump yorker turned into a low full toss – which isn’t the worst ball to bowl in T20 cricket, it still deprives the batters the space they want to hit boundaries. But Kohli somehow managed. And all it took was a twist of his wrist.

That loft over extra cover beating out three outfielders—one running back and two converging on it from a deep cover point and long gone—was like a catharsis. Not long ago, Kohli confessed that he had faked his intensity. Here he felt his embrace and it was all natural. And it was all good. So good that he even hit the air, although India still needed 37 balls from 15.

Hardik, however, still struggled. The pressure to find those sixes started to hit him and he started looking in the wrong places – like the square of the wicket at the MCG. Rauf threw a brilliant 19th over – at least the first four balls – to push the comparison to 28 out of 8. Then Kohli went on strike. He knew the straight boundaries were shorter. And he went for them. I have one on the floor. Then another one behind the wicket. Poof, just like that, 12 out of 2. To be so clear, to be so calculating, in that situation, requires…

Actually, there is no real word for it.

Kohli said so herself. “I have no words for it. I have no idea how this happened.”

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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