Irrespective of the format and the match situation, Virat Kohli likes to take his time to get his eye in. The beauty of his batsmanship, however, is that once he is set, no score looks inconceivable and no target unachievable. In that sense, the Indian captain is quite an antithesis to the burly big-hitting marauders from the Caribbean, who like to seize the initiative by taking on opposition bowlers from the outset.
On Friday night, Kohli provided yet another masterclass in chasing down daunting T20I targets. It was not a saunter by any stretch. He struggled with his timing early on and tried to force the pace by playing one shot too many. It helped that he had a buoyant KL Rahul at the other end, whose sublime stroke-play gave India the early momentum. The Indian opener scored an impressive 40-ball 62 that was studded with five boundaries and four sixes, and the second-wicket partnership with his captain yielded 100 runs that came in a shade under 10 overs. This set the stage as they gunned down 208 with eight deliveries to spare. This was only the third instance when India had successfully chased after conceding 200+ scores in a T20I at home — the previous instances being against Sri Lanka in 2009 and Australia in 2013.
If Rahul set the tone, Kohli’s sensational 50-ball unbeaten 94 saw to it that there were no hiccups along the way. The seamless manner in which he shifted gears tonight was almost mind-boggling. Just to illustrate this point further, he had trudged along to a run-a-ball 20 and then taken his personal tally to 39 from his first 30 deliveries. At that point, it was scarcely conceivable that he would tee off like a man possessed. It was a checked lofted shot against Jason Holder in the 15th over — sailed over long-off boundary and settled into the second-tier — that kick-started his blitzkrieg.
Clearly rattled by the sudden shift in tempo, the West Indies bowlers, Kesrick Williams in particular, tried to sledge him. If anything, this only riled Kohli further, who unfurled arguably the shot of the evening against Williams — a sumptuous flick shot that sailed over the long-on boundary for a six. Kohli then stood stone-faced, glared at the bowler and used his bat as a notebook to ‘tick’ off Williams’ name.
At the post-match presentation, when he was asked about this gesture, Kohli said he had remembered Williams had given him a similar send-off after dismissing him in a T20 match in Jamaica in 2017. Kohli continued in a similar vein for the rest of the evening. In the end, he more than made up for his sedate start, and shifted gears at the opportune moment, ransacking 74 runs from his last 30 deliveries, to propel India to a resounding win in the series opener. After his match-winning exploits, came Kohli’s tacit admission: “To all the young batsmen watching, don’t follow the first half of my innings. I was batting poorly and didn’t want to put KL (Rahul) under pressure as I couldn’t get going. Luckily, I got that one over from Holder, and then I began to analyse why I’m going wrong. Realised I’m not a slogger but a timer instead, and then changed my playing style”
Hetmyer comes to the party
Ever since he burst onto the international scene in January 2017, Shimron Hetmyer was earmarked for the future. His coaches back home in Cumberland, Berbice hailed him as the finest stroke-player to emerge from the islands since the heady and intoxicating days of Brian Lara. ‘Hetty,’ as he is endearingly called by friends and team-mates, lived up to the initial hype by slamming three centuries in the first 13 ODIs. Soon, a plum IPL contract with the Royal Challengers Bangalore followed. It all looked pretty rosy for the Guyanese, before things began to spiral downhill. A raft of indecisive and rash stroke-play proved to be his undoing. Indifferent starts and poor conversion rates looked like nipping another promising career from blossoming. During RCB’s ill-fated IPL sojourn earlier this year, Hetmyer could eke out just 90 runs from five matches that led to the Bangalore franchise releasing him ahead of the big-ticket IPL auction.
All this was ample fodder for critics to take swipe at. But in the midst of his barren run, he found unequivocal support from Viv Richards, who urged fans and critics to give the youngster time to settle down. “Hetmyer we keep speaking about, he’s a young talent I believe when he settles down, his numbers could be much better for West Indies in the future, but at present, he’s a little if and but at times, but when he works that out and gets to believe he can accomplish that, he’ll be okay. His talent is enormous, it’s just for him to know how to get that done,” Richards had told Espncricinfo.
If anything, Richards’ words seemed to have given him the motivation to stem the tumultuous slide. He put in the hard yards in the gym and worked hard to banish those shots of indiscretion, which was proving to be his nemesis. In India, Hetmyerfinally found his verve. The beauty of his batsmanship was the seamless manner in which he kept the scoring rate up at the 10rpo mark without trying to clear every ball beyond the boundary. He clubbed six sixes and a brace of boundaries in his 41-ball 56, but on every occasion that he did clear the ropes, he made sure that he followed it up with a single. By doing so, he kept the scoreboard ticking along. The Indian bowlers, especially Ravindra Jadeja and Washington Sundar were guilty of bowling too short to the southpaw.
He capitalised on such insipid bowling by orchestrating the impressive slog-sweep shot to damning effect. Hetmyer was not the only West Indian batsman who impressed. Opener Evin Lewis set the tone by unfurling a series of breathtaking strokes upfront that numbed Indian bowlers, especially the usually rampant Deepak Chahar. His 17-ball 40 gave the visitors the desired impetus, but the final flourish came from the seasoned hands of their newly-appointed captain Kieron Pollard (37) and Jason Holder 24*, who ensured they finished with an extremely competitive score of 207/5 after taking first strike — incidentally the second-highest score made by any team in a T20I against India in India. That they drilled 15 sixes on a fairly huge ground in Hyderabad was a testimony to their uninhibited belligerence.