BIRMINGHAM: India captain Virat Kohli heads into a Champions Trophy final against arch-rivals Pakistan back on top of the one-day international batting rankings.
But the star batsman insists it is the form of the title-holders’ opening duo that is giving him confidence in the lead up to Sunday’s clash between the sub-continent cricket giants at the Oval.
The 28-year-old Kohli is also top of the tournament batting averages with a scarcely credible mark of 253 — a figure that owes much to the fact that three of his four innings so far have been not outs.
Kohli was undefeated again as India crushed Bangladesh by nine wickets in a commanding semi-final victory at Edgbaston — the venue where they won the 2013 Champions Trophy title — on Wednesday.
His 96 not out saw Kohli end the match with nearly 10 overs to spare by hitting a four off Sabbir Rahman.
But Rohit Sharma was 123 not out at the other end, having shared an unbroken stand of 178 with his skipper.
By the time Kohli came in, however, India were well on their way to chasing down a modest victory target of 265 thanks to a brisk opening partnership of 87 between Sharma and left-hander Shikhar Dhawan, who made 46.
“I’m really enjoying the way I’m batting,” Kohli told reporters. “For me the number of runs do not matter at this stage. I’m really enjoying the process. The way Rohit and Shikhar batted, it just gave me so much confidence heading out of the changing room. Those two guys really dent the opposition mentally,” he explained.
That India had a below par total to chase owed much to Kohli’s decision to bring on unheralded spinner Kedar Jadhav.
He only had six ODI wickets prior to this match yet dismissed both Bangladesh top-scorers Tamim Iqbal (70) and Mushfiqur Rahim (61) on his way to figures of two for 22 in six overs.
The Tigers’ third-wicket duo had given India something to think about while adding 123 but once they were both out the innings fell away.
“He bowled really well, credit to him,” said Kohli of Jadhav. “He doesn’t bowl much in the nets, but he’s a smart cricketer. He knows where the batsmen get into trouble, and if you can think like a batter when you’re bowling, it’s obviously a bit of an advantage to any bowler.”
India will now finish the tournament against Pakistan having started their title defence with a 124-run thrashing of their traditional foes in Birmingham under a fortnight ago.
While it may be one of cricket’s oldest cliches to label Pakistan “unpredictable”, they’ve done their best to live up to it during this tournament.
After a performance against India even Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur labelled “shambolic”, they bounced back to beat top-ranked South Africa. Pakistan then held their nerve to beat Sri Lanka in what was a virtual quarter-final in Cardiff on Monday.
Two days on, they raised their game still further to inflict a crushing eight-wicket defeat of previously unbeaten tournament hosts England in a semi-final in the Welsh capital.
For all that India’s margin of victory was greater, Pakistan’s last-four success was arguably even more impressive given they bowled England out for just 211.
“The turnaround has been magnificent,” said Kohli of Pakistan’s progress. “They’ve beaten sides that looked really strong against them.”
For Bangladesh their first major semi-final was a reality check.
Having been spared all but certain elimination when rain washed out their match with Australia, the Tigers got to the knockout phase with just one win, albeit their defeat of New Zealand was a well-deserved success.
Bangladesh all-rounder Shakibal Hasan was left lamenting the fact his side had been “nowhere near their best” against India.
“I thought we were in a very good situation to score 300-320, that would have been a different game,” said Shakib. “Losing those two wickets to an occasional bowler obviously didn’t help. With our runs and that wicket, we knew it was very hard for our bowlers, but still I think we were nowhere near our best today, especially in our bowling and fielding.”