To revive his T20 career in these fast-changing times, Kohli has taken a leaf from the past. As luck would have it, the conditions in Australia meant his team followed suit, underscoring the batsman’s own importance in his cricket career to the captaincy.
The crowds here, sensing that something special is about to unfold, have been following Kohli around Australia since before his innings against Pakistan, which has undoubtedly been the highlight of the World Cup so far.
Even Australian legend and former India coach Greg Chappell, not always a fan of the T20 format, was so overwhelmed that he termed Kohli’s innings as “a song from God”.
“Ironically, it was also the innings that legitimized T20 cricket as, dare I say it, an art form, more than any other I’ve seen in the last 15 years,” said Chappell.
‘Art’ is not something one associates with impactful T20 batting, but Kohli’s art-dodger approach to power play is revolutionary. His success here, the genesis of which lay in the long break he took before the Asia Cup and the much-anticipated century against Afghanistan in a dead rubber, was engineered by Kohli going “back to basics” like cricketers want to say , instead of trying to re-engineer his T20 approach from the ground up.
To understand how Kohli worked it out even before he landed in Australia, one needs to understand the genesis of captain Rohit Sharma and coach Rahul Dravid’s insistence on a more attacking approach in the order: India’s failure in last year’s T20 World Cup.
India did have a limited batting approach in the shortest format and that needed to change.
“What should take priority is if we get better as a team,” Rohit said. “We felt there needed to be a change in attitude. At the same time, we must remember that when you try to do new things, there will be some failures. That doesn’t mean you have to take a step back.”
There is absolutely no disagreement here, but rather synergy.
After the century against Afghanistan in September, the two senior players in the team sat down for a rare chat with bcci.tv in which Kohli said, “I got a lot of clarity from you and the team management to just allow me to bat. It was very important. The space I got made me feel very relaxed. The World Cup is big and if I play well, I can contribute a lot to the team. I spoke to Rahul bhai (Dravid) about how I strike rate in the middle overs can improve.”
Since that Afghanistan knock, in which he scored his last 72 runs from just 29 balls, Kohli’s knocks have been about top gear the old-fashioned way.
“I banked on good cricket shots,” he explained. “Six shots are not a big strength of mine. I can (hit) them when the situation calls for it, but I’m better at finding gaps and finding boundaries.”
This realization seems to have not only freed Kohli, but in early summer Australian conditions at the World Cup, in which batsmen have struggled in the Powerplay, it has shown India the way forward: look to attack, but if necessary , develop your own approach. Do not be reckless in difficult circumstances.
Against the Netherlands in Sydney, as Rohit Sharma tried to get out of trouble and later said he wasn’t too happy with his half-century, Kohli simply bided his time: his first 25 came off 24 balls, the next 37 of 20.
Against Pakistan, his first 25 was at less than a run a ball at the bouncy, fast MCG (28 balls), but his next 57 came from 25. The 63 against Australia in Hyderabad and a 49* against South Africa in Guwahati have a similar approach: bide your time, work the ball around, get your eye in and then back your strengths and explode. The tried and tested Kohli way to an impactful innings in any white-ball format.
Pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar admitted as much when talking about the conditions in this World Cup.
“We may feel as a bowling unit we conceded 15 to 20 more, but that has been a pattern of all teams in this World Cup. If you watch most games, teams don’t score much in the first 10, but once the ball gets a bit older, steady batsmen start scoring runs.”
One important reason why India’s top order could take its time here is the ability of no. 4 Suryakumar Yadav to raise the tempo effortlessly. This separation of roles allowed everyone to play to their strengths.
“Everyone has different plans when they go to bat,” said ‘SKY’ after the match against the Netherlands. “It is equally important what their (own) game plan is. So they (the top order) do the same thing and try to get their eye in. I love the way they bat.”