Thrilling IND v PAK clash proves King Kohli’s back on his throne

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A pulsating, electric crowd of 90,000 ardent fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. A constant, almost religious fervour, punctuated only by sudden hushes and fleeting, blaring music. Two evenly matched teams, and at the centre of it all, a veritable gladiator conquering all before him. Even the MCG, perennially Australia’s sporting coliseum, has not played host to an encounter like this before.

The intoxicating atmosphere at India’s thrilling T20 World Cup victory over Pakistan is a reminder that numbers paint only part of the picture. After all, exactly a month ago to the day, 100,024 – an official capacity crowd – watched a rampant Geelong dismantle Sydney in an AFL Grand Final.

Yet somehow, those crowds still pale in comparison to those who bore witness to the MCG’s latest spectacle. You could argue that this is due to the typically high proportion of reserved “corporate fat cat” seats at AFL grand finals, or the fact that marquee sporting events at the ‘G have been one-sided of late.

Source: IANS

But watching India play Pakistan means watching passionate fans praying and crying; singing and dancing in the streets and in the seats before, during and after the game; ex-players turned commentators celebrating with zero inhibition; and, above all, a camaraderie and by-play between the fans that belies the tensest of political ties.

It’s little surprise that India against Pakistan has been described as a religious experience.

Of course, the fans – remarkable as they were – could not generate such an environment in a vacuum. The spark was lit by the two sides, as it ever has been, a battle between Pakistan’s formidable bowling attack and India’s vaunted batting line-up. From the very start, the match swayed this way and that, and victory never truly seemed to be firmly in a team’s grasp until the final few overs, with Pakistan firmly in the ascendancy and India all but requiring a miracle.

And then suddenly, the match was ripped from Pakistan’s grasp by one player.

team india
Source: IANS

Virat Kohli’s star may have faded of late, but against Pakistan, by his own admission, it shone brighter than it ever has. For all the great knocks Kohli has played, his lone assault on Pakistan’s excellent bowling attack sits atop them all, given the context, the stakes, the sheer audacity of it.

Even as each team’s line-ups were announced before the game, it was obvious Kohli remains the crowd darling – no matter whether Pakistani or Indian. Pakistani fans bowed to him as he fielded on the boundary, while the passionate roars from Indian fans would send goosebumps down any onlooker’s spine.

But if Kohli felt the sheer weight of expectation on him, he did not show it.

Perhaps that is because of late, India’s fate has not rested solely on Kohli’s bat, as it did for many years. Now, newer generations – the likes of Suryakumar Yadav and Hardik Pandya – can be trusted to deliver where Kohli has failed.

That is why, with India reeling at 4-31 in pursuit of Pakistan’s 159, and Kohli left watching on in quiet disbelief at the other end, India’s chase was in many ways a blast from the past. India’s top order had crumbled, the experiment to send Axar Patel up the order had backfired, and even Pandya, who accompanied Kohli in an ultimately match-winning stand of 113, struggled to keep his strike rate above 100. Television commentators advised Pakistan to keep Pandya on strike in the death overs – a curious piece of advice that has never before been given.

It was not, however, a slight on Pandya; it was a nod to the sheer brilliance of Kohli. With 28 runs required from 8 balls, Kohli hit a straight back-foot six off the fearsomely quick Haris Rauf, a seemingly impossible shot, especially given the dimensions of the MCG. He followed it with a gorgeous flick off the pads for another six, sending fans into raptures and keeping the miracle alive.

ind v pak at the mcg
Source: @T20WorldCup on Twitter

A chaotic final over ensued – wickets, sixes, controversy. In some ways, only Pakistan could have found a way to lose this game, but equally, only Kohli, burdened as ever with the weight of a billion expectations, could have found a way to win it.

As Ashwin struck the final delivery over mid-off for the match-winning runs, Kohli pounded the turf with his fist. It was a telling release of emotion in front of now exultant, delirious fans.

READ ALSO: India v Pak T20 World Cup 2022: The perfect amount of spice 

Ritam Mitra
Ritam Mitra
Ritam is an award-winning journalist and lawyer based in Sydney. Ritam writes on domestic and global politics, human rights and social justice, and sport.

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