Mirpur: Their bowling might struggle to defend 289 against Bangladesh. Their batting might not be resilient enough to dominate in all conditions. But on the subcontinent, India are the masters of the chase. And after having knocked off 321 in 36.4 overs in Hobart barely three weeks ago, they completed their highest successful ODI chase in Mirpur, against Pakistan, who are not exactly a weak bowling side. And leading the mammoth effort was that man Virat Kohli with a career-best 183. Forget the obscenities, forget the extreme emotions; with 11 hundreds, including three in his last four innings, Kohli is one of the most complete ODI batsmen in the world now.
When a boundary is needed, Kohli is the man. When the singles are needed, Kohli is the man. When a gap is to be found, Kohli is the man. He kept doing all of that for 148 deliveries against Pakistan. By the time he was done, he had hit 23 boundaries and made 183. India had lost Gautam Gambhir off the second ball of the innings. They lost just one more wicket in the next 272. Kohli's dominance was so complete, it left contrasting support performances from Sachin Tendulkar and Rohit Sharma in the shade. It certainly meant Mohammad Hafeez's and Nasir Jamshed's centuries were in vain. As was their 224-run opening stand, Pakistan's highest against India, and their second-highest ever.
Not losing by a bonus point put Pakistan in the final of the Asia Cup; it kept India and Bangladesh dependent on the result of the last league game between the hosts and Sri Lanka, who were knocked out.
It was Kohli who almost single-handedly kept India in the tournament with a performance so supreme it led Misbah-ul-Haq to call it the best ODI innings he had seen. Chasing 330 is tough. Chasing 330 against Pakistan should be as tough as it gets for an India batsman. Kohli could not bother about things such as pressure. Even when Pakistan struck gold in the first over when Mohammad Hafeez trapped Gambhir in front.
Pakistan were playing five bowlers but India worked around the threat of Saeed Ajmal and Umar Gul initially by targetting the others. Tendulkar and Kohli outdid each other in stroke-making. Their second-wicket partnership was worth 133 in just 19.1 overs. While Gul and Ajmal were given the respect they deserved, the shorter lengths of Wahab Riaz and Aizaz Cheema were taken for runs. As was the quicker pace of Shahid Afridi.
The 100th century finally done with, Tendulkar was totally unrestrained and went along at a faster clip than Kohli. India found momentum in the third over, Cheema's second, which went for 12. Kohli began with a violent pull while Tendulkar's back-foot punch past cover was vintage. Pakistan had just started to suffer for bowling the wrong lengths. Cheema continued to be short of a good length, and Tendulkar brought out another vintage with a sly guide over slips that flew for six.
Tendulkar and Kohli dealt with the spinners in their own ways when they needed the boundaries. Tendulkar carted Hafeez over midwicket with a slog-sweep; Kohli whipped Afridi through the same region.
Riaz's three-over spell put Pakistan under even more pressure. Not only did he bowl short, he kept on targeting Kohli's pads and the batsman helped himself to several fours on the on side. He ultimately disappeared for 50 in four overs. Hafeez, the lone part-timer used, went for only 42 in nine.
Tendulkar , meanwhile, misread an Ajmal doosra after reaching his fifty and ended up edging it to slip, but Kohli was looking nearly unstoppable. What he needed was a sidekick and for once, Rohit rose to the occasion. He took his time before showing his range against spin with a series of cuts, pulls and lofted drives over extra cover. Kohli and Rohit went one better than Kohli and Tendulkar had as the third wicket realised 172 in 26.2 overs.
Kohli was in the zone. He went without a boundary for 32 balls, but still scored 25. In this period, he got to his century which came with the now-famous celebration. In this period, Rohit kept getting the boundaries. The asking-rate still crossed eight an over after the 39th. Kohli went after Gul in the 40th in a flurry of whip, swat, loft and clip. Sixteen runs later, the rate was below seven-and-a-half. He wasn't done yet. Riaz was greeted with a whip off a yorker, a flick and a drive in the 41st. Thirteen runs later, the rate was below seven.
Though Kohli and Rohit could not hit the winning runs, the game as a contest between India's batsmen and Pakistan's bowlers had ended long ago. Hafeez and Jamshed had ensured the pressure would be squarely on the former going into the chase, with a 224-run opening partnership. After having failed to defend 289 against Bangladesh, India were once again let down by the inability of their bowlers to either strike or contain.
India had the opportunity to make first use of the Mirpur pitch, which has been harsher for bowlers in the evening, but Hafeez and Jamshed stroked boundaries at will, against a listless unit, on their way to centuries. Younis Khan, usually not one to worry attacks at the death, smashed 52 off 34 deliveries to lift Pakistan to their second-highest total against India.
India's lack of penetration was evident when MS Dhoni threw the ball to Tendulkar in the 24th over, after having already tried seven bowlers. Five of them had already gone at more than run-a-ball by then, and none, barring Ashok Dinda, had come close to troubling the Pakistan openers.
Pakistan had taken control long before that, though, with Hafeez and Jamshed, a burly left-hander in the Graeme Smith mould, playing with assurance and eschewing any desperation.
The previous best opening stand for Pakistan against India was 144 between Aamer Sohail and Saeed Anwar in 1996; Hafeez and Jamshed had already rustled up 150 at the halfway mark. Both soon got to their centuries, Jamshed's being his maiden one in ODIs.
The batting Powerplay consumed both batsmen in the search of more runs, but Younis and Umar Akmal ensured that Pakistan came nowhere to enduring the kind of middle-order collapse they had had against Bangladesh.
Younis has been criticised for being slow in this format, but today he was at ease as the innings neared its close. Orthodox punches and lofts raced for boundaries through the off side. To Pakistan's misfortune, Kohli would hit them harder in the evening, and for longer.
Story first published on: Sunday, 18 March 2012 21:37 IST