October 17, 2016 1:38:09 am
Eighteen. That was the most significant number of the day. Outside the turnstile, you see a thousand No 18s, restlessly pushing each other for their turn to be frisked and let inside. Twice as many were already waiting inside, waiting for the spotting of the No 18, screeching out the No 18’s name. A young boy, draped in India tricolour over another jersey with No 18 inscribed on it, took out a banner that read: “18 till I die.” There were of course, No. 7s, No. 264s, and a few No. 12’s (in case you aren’t nutty Indian supporter, it’s Jasprit Bumrah’s number). But they were few and far between.
It was like the Sachin Tendulkar show repeating itself, in another milieu and backdrop. And as the slick silhouette of Virat Kohli emerged from the pavilion, the crowd went almost berserk. You needn’t have been there to believe the crowd had spotted Kohli. The sheer cacophony sufficed. A mere wave of his right hand and their day was made. For them, it was more gratifying an experience than perhaps India winning the match. But does adulation and hero worship can ever be gratified?
As New Zealand batsmen kept unravelling, seemingly conspiring against the crowd’s wish to see Kohli unfurling a hundred, the crowd began cribbing. “Are hamara Kohli kaise sau marega? Are kuch to bana do, usko ek fifty ka to mauka de do,” a manic Kohli supporter yelped. Their hopes might have lifted when Tom Latham and Tim Southee orchestrated a late assault that stretched them to 190.
Then, for exactly 9.2 overs, openers Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane deferred their dream of seeing Kohli bat. Then when Rohit was pinged in front by Doug Bracewell, the crowd let out the single loudest cheer of the day. It might have echoed in the mountains. Not that they enjoy Rohit or Rahane less, but they clearly love Kohli more.
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The feeling now – as was in Tendulkar’s case — is one of nervous excitement. Excited to see your favourite batsman, but nervous with the fear that he might get out soon.
Kohli, more often than not, has realised their dreams. His body of runs, and the circumstances in which most of those runs were wrought, attests to this. He has scored far more runs in far more tense circumstances. This looked like a cakewalk. And proved to be one. Years later, when he is done, this knock will be just a footnote among his memorable conquests. But not for those who witnessed the unbeaten 85.
It was significant in the context of the match as well. After adding 13 more runs, the hosts lost Rahane. The strip had shown signs of sluggishness. Kiwi bowlers, especially, Doug Bracewell was interrogating Kohli with skiddy deliveries outside the off-stump. in modern-day sports, teams just need an iota of hope to comeback. An intemperate stroke by Kohli and India could have been in a spot of bother, especially with an inexperienced middle-order and MS Dhoni. In the past, better teams have contrived to press the alarm button from similar opportunities. But Kohli, irrespective of situations, went about the task clinically. Surely, there might have been the lingering temptation to complete the chase in a hurry. But Kohli’s approach was the same like how he would go about a 300-plus heist, the same manipulation of gaps, urgent running between the wickets and the ruthless demolition of any boundary ball. Deconstruct any on his knocks, the contours will be the more or less the same.
So anything marginally full, short or down the leg-side, Kohli ensured he split the fielders. If cricket had a version of tiki-taka, surely Kohli would have been its conductor, like Xavi or Iniesta. The crispness of the successive straight-driven boundaries off Bracewell was pretty much like the needle-sharp, inch-perfect passes off the Spanish virtuosos.
Once he crossed his half-century, he took more liberties. But a dropped catch at 60 again made him a tad watchful, before he wrapped up the match with a delightful six over mid-on, Dhoni-like in rendition but with far more grace. To say the crowd went bonkers would be an understatement. The No 18 in the middle calmly waved his bat at crowd. A thousand No. 18s reciprocated with thunderous cheers.
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