There is something about Virat Kohli against a yellow jerseyed team, 2016 - against Australia in a long ground at Mohali and now 2020 - against Chennai Super Kings in a similar boundary in Dubai. Time and again, Kohli proves that T20 is a format that needs power, precision and brain all at once.
Since the start of the T20 format, a lot of raves have been about the power-hitting prowess shown by some of the West Indian players and a nifty and swifty creativity shown by the Western cricketers, be it AB de Villiers or Jos Buttler. So much so that it has become the benchmark of a T20 innings, loads of creativity and equally as many boundaries in between them. In between creativity and boundary-scoring shots, cricket’s basic fundamentals has gone for a walk - running in between the wickets.
Royal Challengers Bangalore had their opener Aaron Finch’s middle-pole knocked out of the ground with a stunning in-swinger from Deepak Chahar. At the other end, there was the 20-year-old youngster Devdutt Padikkal in his first campaign in Red and Gold. Enter, Virat Kohli on a tricky Dubai pitch which was equally two-paced and challenging. In front of him, there was Chennai Super Kings - his nemesis since the start of the IPL in 2008. RCB have always endured a tough time against their cross-state rivals CSK but the right-hander has always excelled against them.
Against the men in Yellow, Kohli has scored 761 runs, at an average of 36.24 and a relatively low strike-rate of 123.94, borderline of the 120 strike-rate that KL Rahul was heavily trolled. Right from the first ball, there was the pressure of a swinging Kookaburra. Immediately, the right-hander flicked his first delivery for a hustle between the wickets. The approach was set, it was what most teams would expect from Kohli, the batsman, fast-paced action with the fielders put under immense pressure. For CSK, they were smelling another wicket, which would make their lives much easier on such a track where they would have to chase the target later on.
His last four innings against Dhoni’s men read 18 (15), 8 (11), 6 (12) and 9 (8), wherein he got out trying to accelerate against them. This innings, he took a different approach - one that had set him apart from all other white-ball bowlers, one with which he excelled against Australia in Mohali, a ground which has relatively larger boundaries than the other stadiums in the country. The approach of snatching out-of-place singles and doubles that were significant to his fitness levels.
Four runs off 3 balls, ensuring that there was no room for dot balls during the tougher phase for the side. In hindsight, he knew that there was his trusted batting partner, AB de Villiers set to walk in. Against the spinners too, Kohli had no other approach but to run the singles and doubles, the boundaries suddenly looked a lot different and difficult, getting RCB to a total of 65 after the first ten. Now, emerged the question, when do the two set batsmen - Padikkal and Kohli start taking the risks, as they had to up the ante. In such an attempt, both the opener and AB de Villiers got out to two cross-seaming deliveries from Shardul Thakur.
Advantage CSK, the men in Yellow know how to curb such a batting order later on in the innings. The pressure was back on RCB’s main man Kohli, who was batting alongside Washington Sundar. Left-handed Washington hit the ball a long way into the pavilion, frightening some of their stars but Kohli was unfazed at the non-striker’s end. He had a calm demeanour and approach, gimmicking a monk. He was on 30 runs off 26 deliveries, at the end of the 13th over. A soft-handed touch and later he brought his 6000th run in an RCB jersey but that was just a milestone, the real work was yet to come.
When Sam Curran was brought into the attack, the 31-year-old in ‘mocking’ way spliced one over the keeper, which travelled for a six. He was totally chuffed but at the same time, was breathing a sigh of relief. If he got out then and there, it would have been - advantage CSK. However, at the other end, the left-hander was undone by an appetising wide delivery. Then came in the leg-spinner in the 16th over, Shivam Dube could only get one boundary off the over. Kohli was still batting, at 44 off 35 but the aggression was yet to come.
Last delivery of Thakur’s over, he swivelled himself and dispatched the short delivery to the boundary rope. RCB were still on 117 at the end of the 17th over, Kohli on 53 off 39. And then came that over, resembling James Faulkner in more ways than one, a left-arm seamer, a crucial stage in terms of the game and a set Kohli. The first delivery was unleashed over the ropes by Shivam Dube, met happily by a pumped-up RCB skipper. He knew that it was coming, the pressure was on CSK bowlers, they needed to get the two under the pump. Then came in the mind-games, the Delhi batsman knew that Curran was going to target wide-off the off-stump as he shimmied his way past the stump.
Seemingly, Curran’s delivery sat up nicely for the right-hander to swing straight, nice and handsome for a six. Prior to this, he constantly put the fielder under pressure with the quick singles, unorthodox doubles - sometimes even putting the opposition’s best fielders - Ravindra Jadeja and Faf du Plessis off their feet. To top Curran off, he scored another six to get 24 runs off his over, putting the pressure right at Thakur, who had picked up two wickets before in the innings. Boom, a walking six and a minute later, RCB were flying high which forced the seamer to bowl a no-ball, where they pinched a quick double. Just one risky shot in the over and they got themselves 14 off the over.
With Dwayne Bravo, CSK’s plan was to ensure that they would get the ball out of Kohli’s orthodox-arc forcing him to hit the ball towards the off-side. That’s when the experience combined with his precision and brain came to the fore, as he scored a brilliant boundary - via a scoop shot resembling his teammate AB de Villiers. You could see it in his face, he was enjoying his innings, so were all the RCB fans, who tuned in unison to witness one of the best knocks this season, one that is mixed with intelligence and some sheer game-awareness. Despite not scoring another boundary in the over, Kohli ensured that RCB got 14 runs and more importantly, 169 runs on board edging their rivals in terms of being on top of the game.
"I think it's every important to be respectful of the conditions you're playing in rather than arriving onto the field and thinking I'm going to hit everyone onto the second tier of the stadium. That's what experience is. Having played so much cricket and T20 cricket, I understand - and the batting group understands - that if you're in at the death overs and you have a score behind you and if you're hitting well, you can capitalise big time," said Kohli following the game.
He scored 34 runs off the first 30 deliveries but his running between the wickets and putting the pressure on the opponents ensured that he could score 56 runs in his next 22 deliveries. Boundaries are temporary, Kohli running in between the wickets is permanent.