India v Pakistan, World T20 2014 in Mirpur: Virat Kohli makes 36* off 32, the highest individual score in a low-scoring match. India go from 54 without loss to 65 for 3, but Kohli is there to steer the chase.
India v Pakistan, World Cup 2015 in Melbourne: Kohli smashes 107 off 126, walking in at the eighth over, and staying till the 46th. His innings is the spine around which India build a match-winning 300 for 7 to get their tournament off to a cracking start.
India v Pakistan, Asia Cup T20 2016 in Mirpur: India are chasing just 84 but Mohammad Amir’s missiles leave them 8 for 3 in the third over. Kohli weathers the storm like a master sailor and leaves only when India are at the doorstep of victory. Kohli’s score is 49. The next highest in the match is 25. The next highest for India is 14*.
India v Pakistan, World T20 2016 in Kolkata: Yet again, India are in trouble at 24 for 3 in the fifth over, chasing 119 for a win. But yet they have Kohli who responds with 55*, more than double what anyone else has got in the match. The chase is done in 15.5 overs.
India v Pakistan, Champions Trophy 2017 in Birmingham: Kohli is under some pressure coming into the tournament. He’s had a poor IPL, and there is reported dissension in the ranks against Anil Kumble, the coach. Kohli breaks through the clouds of gloom with a glorious 81* off 68.
These are Kohli’s last five matches against Pakistan, across formats. It’s no coincidence that Kohli has come in and bailed India out of tight situations so many times. He’s practiced it. He’s sat and thought up scenarios where India are in trouble, and how he handles the situation. To be fair, we all have such flights of fancy – the difference with Kohli is he’s visualising, not daydreaming. And that is why he can pull it off, no matter how big the stage, faced with an opponent where victory matters more than against any other.
“It’s how you think about the game and how you prepare for big games. You have to believe in yourself no matter what,” he said at The Oval on Saturday (June 17), the eve of India’s Champions Trophy 2017 final against Pakistan. “The ability to think otherwise in a difficult situation is something that sets you apart and actually pulls the team through. So if you are thinking we are three down and I might get out, then you will get out. If you’re thinking we’re three down, I’m going to counterattack and get the team back on track, it ends up happening because you’re convinced about it.
“That’s something that I work on. I visualise a lot, and I see myself in difficult situations and actually convince myself that I can pull the team out in those situations. It won’t happen every time, but eight out of ten times it will end up happening because you’re so convinced about it.”
Visualisation, more than deep analysis using videos, is Kohli’s go-to method. He has perfected his art to the degree that he can dominate most oppositions and conditions, especially in 50-overs cricket where his batting career is on track to end up as possibly the greatest ever.
“I have never believed in watching too many videos of anyone,” said the Indian captain. “I believe in my abilities, and I feel like if I’m good enough, if I’m technically good enough, I should be able to counter any bowler that’s bowling to me. I don’t take extra pressure thinking he’s bowling from here, what if he doesn’t do that in the game. I like to go by what I see coming out of the hand, and whether you have played people before or you haven’t, you cannot guarantee a performance. Even the bowlers that you play regularly, on a tour or throughout a series, two matches you’ll be on top of them, third match they can nick you off. It’s basically how you react to every ball that’s bowled to you regardless of whether you’ve played against the guy or you haven’t. You have to be good enough to counter it.”
Kohli has ensured that his attitude of relaxation and not taking the pressure have rubbed off on the Indian team too, and he was emphatic that would continue for the final. “It’s a cricket match, so we’ll play it that way. The tournament has to end at some point. If we sit and think too much about it being a final, we have to win and the trophy is on the line – people do well when they don’t think of these things. Those who get too excited or too nervous can’t perform in big games. If you keep the calm in the team, the dressing room is good.”
The final has already been sold out, and The Oval is expected to have a carnival atmosphere on Sunday, with bright skies and a dream match-up. As one, or several, banners around the ground are likely to say, ‘Keep calm and trust in Kohli’. It will be apt if that flutters, because Kohli keeps calm to trust in himself.
With inputs from Karthik Lakshmanan