When Virat Kohli wounds down his remarkable career one day, he would not be remembered for his sixes. Or rather for his sixes alone, for six-hitting is but one facet of his astonishing batsmanship. But the two sixes he struck off Haris Rauf, the death-overs hangman, would live immortally in his own mind as well as those who happened to watch it, on the ground or on television or smartphone, live or deferred, full match or highlights, supporter or not.
Those were not just the most unforgettable sixes he had ever struck in his career, but could also be the most emotional ones too. In days to come, they will be spoken about with the same awe as Sachin Tendulkar’s iconic six when facing Shoiab Akhtar in yet another intense India-Pakistan game of the 2003 World Cup.
Uncharacteristically, he choked and groped for words when describing the shots and revealing the planning behind the two strikes.
He begins with the second — the flicked one over fine-leg. “It was a freak one,” he tells the host broadcasters, amidst a cacophony of cheers and claps in the backdrop. “I expected Rauf to go back of length, as he had moved the third man in and point was already in. It seemed to me that he was trying to double-bluff me. So, I was expecting the short ball and could kind of swing over fine-leg for a six. So I was making some room. I didn’t move too much though. Then when the ball came, I just swung through the line. I honestly did not plan that stroke,” Kohli says.
One can watch the replays. He shuffled across a touch, but when he judged the length and line of the ball, he moved inside it and lifted it away. That he did not plan the stroke made it all the more beguiling. It also reflected the genius of Kohli, who could change strokes and plans at the last moment, like the best batsmen down generations. He has the flexibility of mind as well as the dexterity of hands to make and remake plans on the go.
The first six was unplanned too. “I wanted to hit down the ground. That’s the best part of the ground for me as a player,” Kohli says. So, he moved a touch to the legside. He had two options — if the ball was full, he could swing down the ground. If it was wide and short outside off-stump, “I could swivel across square of the field.”
Class comes to fore
Until that ball, Rauf had been dealing with short-pitched balls, his stock-in-trade at the death. But this time, it was more good length. Kohli was waiting on the backfoot, so could not reach the pitch of the ball. Instead, he drove on the up, as he loves to do in Australia. He showed impeccable technique in riding the bounce. He rose a bit with the ball that, had he left alone, would have brushed the bails, and tilted his hips a tad to get on top of the ball. Those skillful hands infused timing into the shot and the powerful wrists imparted direction.
At one point, Kohli pauses before saying: “Those shots were just meant to be. Shots that just happened.” When a player talks about destiny and fate, one knows he is experiencing an exalted level of joy. Or a state of dreaminess one cannot capture in words or make someone else understand or experience. Hence, those two sixes would remain intimate. Those might even adorn the walls of his drawing room.
Beyond the physical traits, the shots demonstrated his courage and self-belief. “I was telling myself (when I got strike) that I had to hit the last two balls. There was no other way out of this game,” he says.
Though Kohli might not have wanted to take the game this deep and wait to hit the last two balls for sixes, the plan was to attack Rauf, a daunting death-overs proposition. “The calculation was simple. Nawaz had one over to bowl, so if I could take Haris down, they would panic.”
The support from Hardik Pandya too was immense, he elaborates. “Initially, I was under pressure. Hardik kept telling me to believe we can stay till the end. I have been through these situations in the past, and being a senior player there is always the pressure of expectations. Then Pandya struck a few fours and we had a conversation where he talked like, ‘anyway, it’s T20 cricket and we have to hit sixes and fours’.”
And those strokes could be the two most immortal sixes Kohli has ever hit. Or perhaps would ever hit.