A man who was caught off a no-ball twice beat a man who should have been run-out twice off a single free-hit. That was how comical – and spectacular – this World T20 semi-final was. And the ultimate gag was that Virat Kohli’s 89 not out off 47 balls was nothing short of a batting clinic, but Lendl Simmons 82 not out off 51 balls led a West Indian demolition job that left India’s chances of winning another title at home in the rubble.
A target of 193 would not have frightened Darren Sammy. He had been talking up Chris Gayle all through the World T20, but seven balls into the chase, he might have felt nervous. His kingpin was clean bowled by Jasprit Bumrah and Marlon Samuels, who won this very trophy with one of the finest displays of T20 batsmanship, went away without a peep. West Indies were 19 for 2, already the required rate had hit double-digits and the men they had in the middle were Johnson Charles, who accumulates dot balls like his partner Simmons, who had arrived in India only two days ago, had accumulated air miles.
Two of the most unheralded batsmen in this power-packed line-up hit one boundary an over from the second until the 14th – which Kohli himself bowled and got rid of Charles with a juicy long-hop. That over, bowled by a part-timer, was the least expensive of the chase, stamping this game as laugh-out-loud madness. And through it all West Indies “just believed,” as Sammy said after the game. Even when they needed 109 runs off only 60 balls.
India were wavering. Not least because they seemed completely incapable of getting Simmons out. R Ashwin had him caught at short third man in the seventh over, but had also overstepped. In the 15th, Hardik Pandya had him caught at extra cover but his front foot had strayed as well. The ensuing free-hit was smashed over the midwicket boundary and West Indies went into the final five overs needing only 55 to win.
Now the mathletes would work out that is still an asking rate of 10 an over, but the West Indian batsmen are uber jocks. Their mis-hits go for boundaries, and some of Andre Russell’s indeed did. So when he did hit them off the middle, the bowlers had no chance. It was an innings – and a setting – that suited him to a T, much like his Mr T hairstyle. Russell’s first six came off the fourth ball he faced – and when the ball was soaring into the night sky, it seemed like it would clear the entire stadium – and his final one sealed the match with two balls to spare.
India did have a chance though, even amid the carnage. The 18th over began with Bumrah bowling three superb slower balls to earn a hat-trick of dots. West Indies now needed 32 off 14 and Simmons knew he had to make up the difference. The next ball was length and it was launched over the leg side. Ravindra Jadeja tracked it from deep midwicket, and it appeared he had pulled off a blinder on the edge of the wide long-on boundary. Only he was too close to the rope. Although he had tossed the ball to – who else – Kohli in a desperate attempt at a relay catch, the tip of Jadeja’s boot had touched the advertising skirting when he first made contact with the ball. Sammy likened his team to David in the pre-match press conference, but their success tonight was right from Goliath’s playbook.
There were a few questions to answer for India – mostly about those no-balls, and how the rest of the batsmen had not contributed enough, and also about how Ashwin bowled only two overs in each of the two knockout matches. But eventually, it was logical that the most powerful batting line-up won on a featherbed of a track, with dew also coming into play. Kohli, though, had been defying every kind of logic on a cricket field – the law of averages and strike-rates to name two. The 82 not out against Australia to get to the semi-final was a masterclass. The 89 not out at Wankhede was transcendent, partly because when he came in, he looked incredibly suspect.
Quite apart from how he plays proper cricketing shots and still thrives in the hit-and-giggle format, even the mistakes he makes are barely believable. He could have been run-out off a free-hit delivery.
Simply sample this: he was not out for a second knockout match in a row – that means he averaged 136.50 in the World T20. He hit only one six, and yet his strike rate was 189.36. Kohli came to the Wankhede with more runs than the rest of the Indian top-five combined, and he finished so too.
India play Twenty20 cricket like they play the other formats too. They aren’t hell-bent on boundaries and it was apparent tonight – they got 92 runs through fours and sixes and 96 of them simply by running between the wickets. No one exhibits that style of play better than Kohli. He and Ajinkya Rahane – who came in for Shikhar Dhawan – ran more twos than they played dot balls during their second-wicket partnership of 66 runs. It had only five fours, and only one came of Rahane’s bat.
Kohli dominated the next partnership too – with MS Dhoni – and not through brutal hitting. He placed the wide yorkers past point. The whiplash his wrists can generate took length balls from outside off and put them in the square-leg boundary. Before doing so once in the 14th over, Kohli was whispering to himself, “come on, come on, come on.” The same words he had yelled after securing his first four – off an outside edge to deep third man. Kohli was clearly switched on, and went into hyper drive in the slog overs. He struck 45 off 16 balls. Among them was a picture perfect cover drive that he struck after coming down the track and when it beat Russell running to his left from long-off, he indulged in a smirk. That was essentially Kohli in a shot. Playing proper cricket shots and picking the gap to maximise their effect.
But West Indies simply outgunned him in the end and were now only one step away from their “mission” to be world champions once again.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo