After a break of a little over a month from international competitions, Virat Kohli returned to the scene of action to mark his 100th Twenty20 international at the Dubai International Stadium on Sunday. There was not much fanfare that one would usually associate with an impending milestone of a leading cricketer.
Just everything seemed normal. Located on the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road, the stadium was filled up to capacity for the first of what was billed as the two certain marquee matches – against arch rival Pakistan — of the Asia Cup competition designated as a Twenty20 format to get the teams fine-tuned to the shortest version of the game a couple of months before the ICC Men’s Twenty20 World Cup in Australia.
The fans were keen and eager to look forward to a grand knock from one of the top drawer batsman in modern cricket. For too long he has struggled to put bat to ball, especially after he ceased to be India’s captain across all formats. All the changes have happened to him in the last ten months and specifically after India’s inglorious exit from the World Cup Twenty20 in October – November last.
As determined as ever, Kohli was primed to challenge himself against a Pakistan pace department that was on Sunday led by a 19-year-old thunderbolt, Naseem Shah who was making his Twenty20 debut. The express fast bowler though had played 13 Test matches and three one-day internationals, but Pakistan has not wasted time to bring him into the scheme of things wherein he would be asked to bowl 24 balls of high speed.
Kohli was summoned to the middle to face the third ball of the India chase of 148 after Shah bowled K. L. Rahul of the inside edge. Pace had already rattled the Indian opener and as the Pakistan captain Babar Azam said at the press conference, Shah was super charged to bowl fast. Kohli left the first ball he faced without any doubt in his mind, but the former India captain was put down of the second delivery from Shah. The ball pitched at a length for an inviting drive, took the edge, but Fakhar Zaman at second slip could not pull of a stunner to bring an end to Kohli’s tenure in the middle.
Kohli and India captain Rohit Sharma got a first taste of the potential of the young Pakistani speed merchant. Kohli spent an uncertain 47 minutes and 34 balls taking on the likes of Shah, Shahnawaz Dhani, Haris Rauf, leg spinner Shadab Khan and left arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz. There was the trademark pull shot when Dahani dug in short and it appeared Kohli would be as fierce to thwart an impressive Pakistani pack.
The Indian batters needed a bit of luck to survive the opening bursts of Shah and Dahani. Kohli top edged a six off Rauf and square drove Dahani. It was not easy work in the middle for both Sharma and Kohli even if the target was 148 (at an asking rate of 7.4 an over). Even the slow bowlers did not give the leeway to be taken away for some quick runs.
Kohli was able to dispatch the short balls from the pacemen to the fence as the second wicket pair added 49 for the second wicket. Then things began to happen with the introduction of left arm spinner Nawaz who came into the match with the experience of 30 matches under his belt. He evoked an error from Sharma, who was caught in the deep and also Kohl, who lifted the bowler into the hands of Iftikhar Ahmed at long off.
Kohli’s contribution had some weight; he was put through the wringer by both the fast bowlers Shah and Dahani and he came through the rough time and gained some confidence. India has never trifled with Pakistan as an opponent and the deportment of both Kohli and Sharma manifested this aspect aplenty. Notching a win in the three team Group A, may have clinched a place for India for the Super 4 stage, but the contest between the two sides would be as intense as the one seen in the initially league match.
There may have been gremlins in his mind while taking on Shah and Dahani for the first time, Kohli and the rest of the Indian team would have learnt the lessons from the first match and better prepared to deal with him in the next match and also probably in the final which is what the fans expect.
Kohli has on most occasions made runs against Pakistan and on Sunday he proved his consistency, although he did not dominate the Pakistan’s fast and spin attack as he had done to an extent in the previous match here last yer. He has scores of 78 not out, 9,27, 36 not out,49, 55 not out, 57 and 35 for an aggregate of 346 runs in eight Twenty20 matches and for an average of an eye pleasing 69.20. Initially he appeared to be chancing his arm, but settled down with the intent of keeping the rival attack at bay.
It was only his fifth match after his team’s unsatisfactory campaign here in the World Twenty20. In whatever way one may describe his tenure in the middle in the brush between the top two Asian sides, he made an effort and luck was on his side, dropped of the second ball he faced. At the end of it all, Kohli should be happy with his undertaking against a top class team and a rival which doesn’t give a quarter.