Virat Kohli said he had managed to stay calm amid the storm after his classy half-century helped India cruise to victory over arch rivals Pakistan in the World Twenty20 Saturday.
After their shock defeat to New Zealand in their opening match, the hosts got their campaign back on track with a six-wicket win in a rain-shortened match at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.
While no other batsman scored more than 26 on a tricky surface in a cauldron-like atmosphere, ice-cool Kohli hit an unbeaten 55 and was still at the crease when India reached their target of 119 with 13 balls remaining.
“It’s important to keep a calm head,” said Kohli after a knock that included seven fours and a six.
“It was a challenging wicket out there but that’s what you need as a cricketer, you need new challenges, every innings you play.
“It was just about keeping calm and trying to work it out, how to go about it… you need to watch the ball, to play it late,” he added after being named man of the match.
With hundreds of millions of television viewers watching a rare showdown between the South Asian titans, Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan added to the fervour by singing India’s national anthem.
– Delayed start -Rain earlier in the day led to the toss being delayed and the match reduced to 18 overs per side, adding to the tension as the players waited nervously for the start.
Put in to bat on a moisture-laden pitch, Pakistan openers Sharjeel Khan (17) and Ahmed Shehzad (25) played cautiously at first and then lost their wickets as they tried to accelerate.
Indian spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Suresh Raina looked dangerous in their opening spells on a track that provided turn and bounce, but the Pakistan batsmen did well to show patience.
Fresh from his match-winning exploits in Pakistan’s opener against Bangladesh, skipper Shahid Afridi promoted himself to number three but could only score eight this time round.
Umar Akmal and Shoaib Malik then stitched together a 41-run stand that helped Pakistan put up what seemed a respectable score of 118 for five.
Akmal (22), whose 16-ball knock was studded with a boundary and a six, was caught behind off Ravindra Jadeja’s left-arm spin.
Innings top-scorer Malik (26), who hit three boundaries and a six in his 26-run innings, soon joined Akmal in the dug-out after trying to force Ashish Nehra’s pace.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Hafeez finished off the innings as Pakistan got seven off the last over.
Pakistan made a good start in defending their total when Mohamad Sami sent back Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina in his opening over to be on hat-trick.
But Pakistan’s attack had no answers to Kohli’s batting and missed left-arm spinner Imad Wasim.
The veteran Yuvraj Singh kept Kohli company, with the pair’s combination of caution and aggression blunting the Pakistan bowlers.
Yuvraj (24) fell to Wahab Riaz, but Kohli, who was joined by skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni for the finale, was in cruise control in a 37-ball knock.
Dhoni hailed his partner for having “the hunger to perform” on such a big stage.
“His biggest plus — he takes everything as a challenge,” Dhoni added of the man who has already succeeded him as India’s Test captain.
Malik was also full of praise for Kohli.
“Credit to Virat. He was the only difference between the two teams,” said the Pakistan star.
India next play Bangladesh in Bangalore on Wednesday, while Pakistan head to Mohali to meet New Zealand on Tuesday.