It is tempting to write of Virat Kohli’s indomitable character, his never-say-die approach and his belief that a T20 World Cup game could be won even when his team needed 28 off eight deliveries, including two from Pakistan paceman Haris Rauf who had bowled 11 dot balls in the 22 thus far. It is indeed tempting to speak of his indomitable spirit in the face of adversity.
I guess, however, that I shall let others pen the praise for his unbeaten knock of 82 to see India home with some steadfast support from Hardik Pandya, Dinesh Karthik (whose hunger to run hard between the wickets matched Kohli during the brief tenure at the crease) and, in the end, the maturity of R Ashwin in resisting the temptation of a heave against a wide ball.
Instead, I shall spend some time soaking in one standout stroke and the chain of freeze frames it triggered.
In an era when ramp shots and switch hits have become part of the grammar of batting, this stroke with deep roots in tradition will be embedded for the confidence, even audacity, with which Kohli sent the ball sailing high into the straight field and deep into the collective consciousness of cricket fans.
With no forward or backward movement of the feet, he conjured a short-arm jab – and I cannot find any other way to describe that – to make the sweetest connect of the blade with the cricket ball, ordering it to alter its direction. The power of the forearms stemmed from all those hours of weight training, but it was his instinctive sense of timing that made it seem so sublime.
Indeed, some strokes are meant to stay etched in the mind. Some for the sheer grace with which they are essayed. Others for the stage of the match in which they are unfurled. Some for the sheer magnitude of the platform on which they are made. And, of course, some others that come to be identified by the players.
Here’s a list of some trademark shots by Indian batters.
A GR Viswanath square-cut or flick, a Sunil Gavaskar straight drive, a Dilip Vengsarkar on-drive, a Mohammed Azharuddin or a VVS Laxman flick from outside the off-stump, a Sachin Tendulkar push-drive past the bowler, a Sourav Ganguly drive on the off-side, a Rahul Dravid square drive, a Virender Sehwag drive over the infield, a Yuvraj Singh pick up shot over mid-wicket, a Rohit Sharma pull, and a Virat Kohli cover drive.
You will excuse me for leaving out a world of magical batsmen like Brian Lara, Martin Crowe, Zaheer Abbas, David Gower, Damien Martyn and Aravinda de Silva, among others. I will leave their characteristic strokes out of this piece since I am dipping into nostalgia, stepping down memory lane.
I promise you it takes a most conscious effort to do that, but one without feeling guilty since this is all about strokes that find a way to seep deep into the coils of the sub-conscious mind and do not appear to acquire sepia tints with the passage of time – and the endless cricket that is being played today.
I cannot forget Garry Sobers flat-batting a six to square-leg off some Universities bowler at the Lal Bahadur Stadium in Hyderabad with the ball hitting the fencing and ricocheting halfway back to the pitch. I was a very young lad in December 1966 to remember many details, but the ferocity of that stroke remains deeply entrenched in my mind.
Vivian Richards’ six over long-leg off Mike Hendrick’s last delivery in the 1979 Prudential Cup final at Lord’s is another of those unforgettable strokes. He moved inside the line of the ball and flicked it into the crowd. Watching that on Black and White TV then, it seemed as if he swiveled and ‘drove’ the ball rather than flicked it, timing it well and making superb contact.
The K Srikanth square drive off West Indian paceman Andy Roberts will remain the stroke of the 1983 Prudential Cup for many who had the privilege of watching it then or on video later. Going down on a knee to send a ball of fuller length scorching the surface on its way to the fence, Srikkanth gave everyone something to remember from India’s total of 183.
I can try but cannot forget Javed Miandad’s last ball six over mid-wicket off a Chetan Sharma full toss in Sharjah in the Australasia Cup final in April 1986. Needing four to win, Miandad sent the ball in orbit, ran into the arms of fans invading the ground in celebration. At the other end of the spectrum, millions of hearts sank in dejection.
Sachin Tendulkar added to that list with his six over third man off Shoaib Akhtar in the 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup match between India and Pakistan in Centurion. A combination of anticipation and reflex action saw him use the pace of the fast short-pitched delivery and guide it out of the ground, much to the delight of India’s fans.
Virender Sehwag’s six into the stands beyond mid-wicket off Saqlain Mushtaq when batting at 295 in India’s first Test against Pakistan in Multan in 2004 is imprinted. Both for the risk he was willing to take by stepping down the track when on the cusp of becoming the first Indian to score a triple century in Test history and for the success he courted with the massive hit.
The left-handed Yuvraj Singh gave me (and all else) much to remember with not one but six sixes off Stuart Broad in the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in Durban. I remember them for not only the ease with which he cleared the ground each time but also the way he recalled each stroke at the media interaction later.
MS Dhoni’s winning six off Sri Lanka’s Nuwan Kulasekara in the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai waltzes into the list quite effortlessly. He cleared his front foot and pounced on a delivery of fuller length to send it over the long on boundary to send all of India into a long night of celebration.
And now the Virat Kohli short-arm jab that deposited the ball besides the sightscreen.
Photo: Screenshot, courtesy t20worldcup.com