MOHALI, India, March 28, (AFP): Virat Kohli was hailed as a batting genius Monday after his brilliant innings led India to an improbable victory over Australia and sealed a semifinals berth for the hosts at cricket’s World Twenty20.
Kohli hit an unbeaten 82 off 51 balls that mixed classic strokeplay with raw power in Mohali on Sunday night, as India chased down Australia’s total of 160-6 in a pulsating final group match.
With three overs to go, India were still 39 runs short of their target but they cantered home with five balls to spare as Kohli and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni laid into the Australian attack.
Kohli hit four boundaries in the penultimate over off Nathan Coulter-Nile before Dhoni finished the job with another four.
Had India been knocked out, it could well have been Dhoni’s last innings amid widespread expectations that he will call it quits after the tournament.
Kohli, 27, has already replaced the 34-year-old Dhoni as Test captain but his regard for the older man was underlined when he paid tribute to India’s “Captain Cool” for helping him keep his head at the finale.
“MS in the end kept me calm, I could have got over-excited,” said Kohli after being named man of the match.
“Trust me, you don’t like these situations very much, (but) they improve you as a cricketer.”
Dhoni said Kohli, who was also the match-winner in a high-octane clash against Pakistan earlier in the tournament, was learning how to stay calm in pressured situations while not losing his natural aggression.
“I think it was an incredible innings, especially the fact that the wicket was not easy to bat on,” said Dhoni.
“A lot of things pop into your head at that point of time (the last overs) and when you’re calm it just helps you to pick the right one… and not be too impulsive”.
“He will always be the same. He will be an aggressive character who is willing to take on challenges and he will be aggressive on the field, but he will also improve,” Dhoni added.
Kapil Dev, who captained India to victory at the 1983 World Cup, praised Kohli for resisting the temptation to slog, instead playing orthodox shots that would have graced a Test match.
“Hats off to this genius with a bat,” Dev wrote in the Mail Today newspaper.
“I have always believed that T20 cricket is not just about slamming the ball or indulging in ambitious shots. You can play your normal cricket strokes and win your battles against the bowlers. Virat’s exhibition proved it.”
India, who now play the West Indies in the second semi-final in Mumbai on Thursday, are hoping to become the first team to win the World T20 twice, and the first on home soil.
Former all-rounder Ravi Shastri, who is now India’s coach, said that Kohli’s “fabulous” innings had proved that the team was hitting its stride at the crucial moment.
“From India’s point of view, I think they’ll get stronger as this tournament progresses,” said Shastri.
Australian commentators were full of praise for Virat Kohli’s thrilling batting on Monday, even though his heroic 82 sent Steve Smith’s team crashing out of the World T20.
India triumphed in the do-or-die showdown in Mohali as they successfully ran down Australia’s 160 for 6 to win with five balls to spare as Kohli put on a batting masterclass.
“Steve Smith called it the ‘Virat show’ and he was right,” wrote Chris Barratt in The Sydney Morning Herald, acknowledging the dejected skipper’s post-match remarks.
“With one of the greatest ever Twenty20 international innings India’s batting maestro all but single-handedly sent Australia home from the 20-overs world championship.”
“One man wins it,” agreed The Daily Telegraph’s Ben Horne as he described the match which crushed Australia’s hopes of a World T20 title and puts India through to the semi-finals.
“I think it’s safe to say there is no talent in world cricket at the moment quite like Virat Kohli,” Horne said in a podcast.
Writing in The Australian newspaper, Gideon Haigh said Kohli’s unbeaten 82 off 51 balls had “made an awkward chase look like simplicity itself”.
“Not a stroke, by the way, would have looked out of place in a Test match,” he wrote.
“Much as the marketers would like to take the cricket out of T20, Kohli keeps putting it back.”
While Geoff Lemon, writing for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said it was hard to feel disappointed at being knocked out by such an impressive innings.
“It is hard to feel anything but awe,” he wrote.
Cricketing greats also heaped praise on Kohli, who with skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni put on 67 runs to take the team to the finish line.
“Wow, that was absolute class from Virat. Congrats India on your win,” tweeted spin master Shane Warne.
Former Australia captain Michael Clarke added: “Looked like a class performance from @imVkohli #T20WorldCup”.