When Kohli converted me
I'm a big CSK fan. Not a great way to start my first blog post but please do read on.
Living in Mumbai, the only IPL game on my radar is when CSK visits. So last year it was a big disappointment when a friend who was supposed to get tickets forgot about it and I had to watch CSK go down against MI at home.
Then it seemed like CSK were headed for a Qualifier clash against MI in Mumbai and I took things in my own hands, buying tickets. Then as fate would have it, something better happened. The league stage ended such that CSK were to face RCB in Mumbai.
RCB pounded CSK senseless in Bangalore in their the last league stage match so I went to Wankhede nervously. I wanted to see Gayle hit his flat trajectory faster than a bullet sixes but I also didn't want to see CSK lose. I wanted him to score a ton but also I didn't. I wanted Zak to hold the ball on a string and make it move in mysterious ways, I wanted to see AB fly around and Vettori work his charms. But then again, I didn't. You get the idea.
Gayle hit a massive six into the second tier of the North Stand to begin with. That warmed up the crowd brilliantly so his dismissal off the next ball was a letdown. I felt letdown at the moment but little did I know that I was about to see one of the most calculated and brilliant T20 innings ever. Virat Kohli shoulders a lot of responsibility for such a young guy but once you see him go about his job you realize he revels in it. Every gap he aims for and successfully finds is planned. He doesn't celebrate each shot though, it all comes out accompanied by an uncensored verbal volley when he gets to a 50 or a 100.
My strongest earlier recollection of him was the 2009 Champions Trophy in South Africa. Umar Akmal and Eoin Morgan had made superb starts to their career then, closing and winning games for their team. After seeing Kohli fall cheaply against Pakistan I wondered why he couldn't be more like them. Then he ran out Kevin Pietersen in an IPL game and stood there eyeballing him as Pietersen told him off in the middle of the pitch. I thought this guy has some gall to run out a senior and stand there when he's not even a great batsman. All that was to change that day.
Bowlers weave spells where batsmen are more artisan in their approach, building innings. Virat was rough in his play, he had the pressure of wickets falling at the other end but his innings was a joy. He didn't just find the gaps, he assaulted them. His drives shouldn't technically be called that because of the punch he adds to them. Other batsmen lean into drives, he somehow manages to get under and give them a strong shove to the boundary.
The CSK bowlers were fairly successful at the other end but had no clue to handle Virat. And then in the brief time that Luke Pomersbach hung around to support him, he cut loose and it was breathtaking to watch. His assault on Bollinger and Morkel was audacious to say the least and a couple of sixes were so divine that they earned him my worship. By the time it ended I'm sure most of the yellow wearing crowd in the half empty ground was dazed. I know I was. After losing Gayle pretty early in their innings, RCB had surged to a huge total thanks to a superb Kohli innings.
I knew Michael Hussey is a walking wicket when it comes to playing Zaheer Khan and that's exactly what happened. I didn't think CSK could actually chase it, nearly fell asleep watching Badri bat and barely remember any of Suresh Raina's innings which ultimately saw them go through. All I remember is Kohli, driving, cutting, nudging, deflecting and plundering. That's the day when Kohli converted me.