The second delivery he faced, a short one from Shadab Khan in the seventh over of the innings, Kohli picked the length early and rocked back to hammer a pull between wide long-one and deep midwicket. In the 11th, he swivelled – head right over the ball, wrists on top of the bounce – to wallop Hasnain to the square-leg boundary. Naseem Shah wasn’t spared either. His first delivery to Kohli was slapped to the cover-point boundary after the batter made room by moving to leg and going down the pitch.
But from being ultra-aggressive, Kohli had to slow down in the second half of his innings because of the rush of wickets, which he later said was the difference between getting to 200 and stopping at 181. But he did give a peek into the team’s mindset when he said the loss of wickets in the middle overs in pushing for “20-25 extra” wasn’t a worry, because when it does come off, it will make a difference.
“If you’ve seen the way we’ve been playing, it’s given us the results we need, and in our middle overs, the run rate has also improved,” Kohli said of India’s approach. “It’s something I, as a batsman, really took keen notice of, and I knew that is one area we need to keep improving on. We’ve spoken about this that sometimes it won’t come off, the way you want and today, we lost a few wickets in the middle phase which didn’t allow us to go towards the 200 target.
“The camaraderie with the boys is amazing. The environment within the team is amazing, so I’m absolutely loving playing at the moment all over again and feeling good the way I’m batting”
“Because after [Deepak] Hooda and me, it was Bhuvi [Bhuvneshwar Kumar], so the bowlers were to follow. That makes a bit of a difference, but we do possess the skills to analyse the situation and play accordingly as well. But given the situation, if we had a couple of wickets in hand, we could’ve got more runs. We’re not disturbed by losing wickets through the middle overs, because that’s the way we want to play. We want to be able to get those 20-25 extra runs that can eventually make the difference in big games.”
Kohli explained that much of his slowdown in the second half was dictated by the batting firepower left. He was forced to delay the big hits, since India were also faced with the danger of running out of recognised batters in the death overs.
“Today I was making a conscious effort to strike at a higher pace,” he said. “When we lost wickets, there was communication and our plans changed, where I had to bat till the 18th with Hooda. If there were a couple of batters, I would’ve gone with the same tempo and tried to hit more boundaries or sixes. But again, I ended up being in a situation where I had to go deep.
“I thought Haris Rauf bowled a great last over. He nailed those slower balls and yorkers, with that pace when you execute, it’s always difficult to get it away. I’m going to continue – especially batting first – to bat the [same] way, trying to take the game on and stay ahead of the asking rate, understanding the conditions and just bat freely. As long as I am in a good space and confident of my batting, I know I can bat in many ways. It’s just about getting back into the groove and getting confident with how you’re playing and once that happens then the situation dictates how you need to play.”
Having made two half-centuries in a row and a 35 earlier, Kohli is now the second-highest run-scorer in the tournament so far – 154 runs in three innings at a strike rate of 126.22 – behind Mohammad Rizwan. It was inevitable that he’d be asked about his form and silencing critics. Kohli underlined the importance of finding excitement and joy in batting as a big factor.
“I’ve never paid attention to these things [external criticism], to be honest,” he said. “I’ve played for 14 years; it doesn’t happen by chance. My job is to work hard on my game, something I’m always keen to do. Keen to improve my game for the team. That’s something I’m going to continue to do so.
“Everyone’s doing their job eventually. Our job is to play the game, work hard, give our 120%, and I’ve said it in the past that as long as I am doing that and the team has faith in that, what happens in the change room is the only thing that matters to us and to me as well personally.
“People have their opinions and that’s absolutely fine, that doesn’t change my happiness as a person. I’ve taken some time away, put things into perspective, it’s given me the relaxation that this isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of life, I need to enjoy the game. I can’t put myself under so much pressure of expectation that I’m not able to express myself. That is not why I started playing this game. I was able to find that excitement back, when I came here, the environment was very welcoming. The camaraderie with the boys is amazing. The environment within the team is amazing, so I’m absolutely loving playing at the moment all over again and feeling good the way I’m batting.”
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo