You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Kohli, Kane and fear as an illusion

Wisden India logo Wisden India 16-01-2017

“If you accept the expectations of others, especially negative ones, then you never will change the outcome,” said Michael Jordan, the basketball legend who knew a thing or two about stretching the bounds of sporting credulity.

In the past 24 hours alone, we have seen three examples of sportsmen making a mockery of conventional wisdom while pulling off clutch plays and performances. First, India won an ODI against England after conceding 350 with the ball and then slipping to 63 for 4 in the run chase.

A few hours later, with their game against the Dallas Cowboys tied at 31-31 and just 12 seconds left on the clock, the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and Jared Cook combined for one of those National Football League (NFL) plays that will be discussed for years to come.

Sunday night in Texas was Monday morning in Wellington, New Zealand, where the home side pulled off one of the greatest come-from-behind victories in cricket history, after having conceded 595 runs in the first innings.

The catalyst for the Indian victory in Pune was Virat Kohli, who came to the crease at 13 for 1 and then saw KL Rahul, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni depart in quick succession. His 105-ball 122 was his 17th century in a run chase, equalling Sachin Tendulkar’s record in 136 fewer innings.

Photos: India win as Virat Kohli stars in his own debut as captain

India win as Virat Kohli stars in his own debut as captain with Kedar Jadhav: India beat England by 3 wickets with five balls remaining to take a 1-0 lead in the three match ODI series. This was the first match in which Virat Kohli led an Indian ODI side as full time captain. As was expected, Kohli led by example by notching up 122 runs in 105 balls. His was part of a 200-run-partnership with Kedar Jadhav for the fifthe wicket. Jadhav was the man of the match for his 120 in just 76 balls. (Source: PTI) India win as Virat Kohli stars in his own debut as captain with Kedar Jadhav

Kohli’s average when faced with a target (64.3) is streets ahead of anyone else that has batted at least 50 times in such a situation. But on the day, he wasn’t even the main man, with Kedar Jadhav, the local hero, dominating the 200-run partnership for the fifth wicket.

A target of 350 or more has been overhauled on six occasions. But not one of those teams found themselves in the dire straits that confronted India when Dhoni miscued a pull off Jake Ball. In two of those six matches, teams didn’t even lose four wickets while overhauling the target. In the other three, the scoreboard showed 299, 179 and 290 when the fourth wicket went down. What India did – and they eventually breezed through with 11 balls to spare – was unprecedented.

“You pull off a few shots and feel like – how did I do that? I think it’s just one of those things with all international batsmen – once you get momentum you can do things that you don’t quite feel you are able to do otherwise,” said Kohli later.

Rodgers also has previous when it comes to Hail-Mary heaves down the field, one of the main reasons why he features in the Most Valuable Player debate almost every single season. In a game of seconds and inches, the Packers’ quarterback and his tight end cut it impossibly fine.

‘Impossible’ was the likely response you would have got at the end of day three at the Basin Reserve if you had suggested New Zealand would be able to win the Test. But once Bangladesh fell apart on the final morning – with Mushfiqur Rahim taken to hospital and Shakib Al Hasan, first-innings double-centurion, playing a dreadful stroke – New Zealand romped home with time and overs to spare.

Watch: Jadhav showed he can play big innings too — Gavaskar

Replay Video

The identity of the main protagonist should have come as no surprise. Kane Williamson may lack Kohli’s swagger on the field, but is every bit as accomplished. His 89-ball century – only Gilbert Jessop (76 balls), Shahid Afridi (78) and Matthew Hayden (84) have been quicker in the fourth innings – was his third in the final innings of a Test. He averages 66.9 in such situations, second only to Sir Donald Bradman among those that have played at least 15 innings.

It would be easy to overlook what he did in the first innings. With 595 in front of them like a Himalayan peak, New Zealand needed to make sure they scored quickly enough to stay in contention. Williamson’s response was 53 from 55 balls. Tom Latham’s century was the anchor, but Williamson provided the impetus for an eventual total of 539.

Like Kohli, Williamson is an all-format player, and the benefits of that are becoming increasingly apparent, especially in the way the elite players deal with pressure situations. That first became apparent to this writer in late 2009, when India and Sri Lanka played a Test in Ahmedabad.

With Chanaka Welegedera making good use of some early moisture on the pitch, India slumped to 32 for 4. Rahul Dravid, who had been through a pretty lean trot in the previous couple of seasons, resurrected the innings with the help of Yuvraj and Dhoni. Late in the session, with Rangana Herath on to bowl his first over, Dravid stepped down the pitch and lofted one down to the sightscreen at long-on. 

It was an astonishing shot given the state of the game, and the travails he had gone through. A month later, as we discussed it – he had finished the series with two hundreds and 433 runs – he mentioned what he had gained from two seasons of IPL.

“In this series, I stepped out and hit bowlers over the top,” he told me. “It’s not that I haven’t done that in the past, but because of the Twenty20 game, I’m forced to do that a lot more and practise it, too. There’s a confidence that creeps into your Test game that allows you to then express yourself a little more. You lose a bit of the fear of playing certain shots because you’ve done it with a fair degree of success in another format.”

Fear. Situations that paralyse the ordinary among us are often viewed as opportunity by the gifted. To go back to Jordan, who ended the Chicago Bulls’ quarter-century wait for an NBA title, and then won five more, “Never say never, because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.”

More from Wisden India

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon