Pressure is a “privilege” Indian star KL Rahul told the 90,293 flag-waving noisemakers jammed in nearly every seat at the MCG in a video package played to an audience already frothing for a contest unlike any the great ground had ever hosted.
That pressure existed on an all-new plane in Melbourne; on the players, the umpires and even the Spidercam operators in a T20 World Cup contest which had the packed stands reverberating as India recorded an unforgettable and controversial victory on the back of absolute brilliance from superstar Virat Kohli.
A match Indian legend Ravi Shastri called the “big daddy” of games delivered in spades with an unbelievable start, a controversial catch that wasn’t a catch, a Pakistan batting-collapse, a stunning resurrection and a deafening “Kohli” chant which shook the grandstand foundations as the former Indian captain muscled his team to victory from nowhere with what could be the best 82 not out of his career.
“That has to go as the best innings he has played for india,” Indian captain Rohit Sharma said of Kohli’s effort.
India needed 36 runs off 14 balls to win when Kohli smashed two consecutive sixes off Haris Rauf, including a flick to fine leg, which made the task 16 off the final over from already shaken spinner Mohammad Nawaz who gave up three sixes in his third over.
It was an over for the ages, but not in a good way for Nawaz as he took a wicket first ball, then third ball Kohli hit a six which became a seven after it was deemed a no-ball.
Pakistan captain Babar Azam was flabbergasted, arguing with umpire Rod Tucker, without success. Next ball was a free-hit, but Nawaz bowled a wide.
Everyone at the MCG was on their feet. It was hard to believe where this match had got to. The target was five off three, with another free hit.
Kohli swung wildly, he was bowled, but the ball deflected off the stumps. They ran three. India needed two off two.
But Dinesh Kartik was facing, and he was stumped. One ball left, two runs needed, but Kohli was up the wrong end.
Ravi Ashwin came in, to redeem himself after claiming a catch that wasn’t a catch when India was bowling.
Then Nawaz bowled another wide.
It was one from one, and Ashwin launched the ball over mid-off, raising his fist as he took the single which set a billion hearts racing in the wildest T20 World Cup game ever.
“I have no idea how that happened,” Kohli said.
“Hardik kept telling me just believe, believe you can do it and stay until the end.
“I was kind of pumping myself up to hit two sixes when we needed 28 off eight (balls), and that became 16 off six.
“I think I will count this one higher (than any other T20 innings) because of the magnitude of the game and what the situation was – it seemed impossible.”
The scintillating finish came after an unbelievable start, with Azam out for a first-ball duck to World Cup debutant Arshdeep Singh with his first ball.
If there’s something that’s beyond fever-pitch, that’s what the MCG crowd was.
Pakistan recovered to post 8-159 but after India’s top-order crumbled Kohli and Hardik Pandya put on a swashbuckling 113-run partnership to seal the astonishing win.
OUT, NOT OUT
Social media went into meltdown when Indian spinner Ashwin claimed a catch he didn’t quite take.
Ashwin, who has drawn both condemnation and commendation for his pro-Mankad stance, thought his stunning diving effort was enough to send Shan Masood back to the pavilion and charged in to celebrate with his teammates.
Masood wasn’t convinced, and stood his ground. But the umpires gave “out” as their soft signal when they sent it upstairs, a tick in the box for Ashwin.
But the best umpire in the business, Richard Kettleborough, found the right replay and told the MCG crowd “I have the ball touching the ground first”, as Ashwin looked at his fingers.
There were no on-field protests either, and the furore was limited to cyberspace, more fodder for the anti-Ashwin brigade.
Masood was also saved by Spidercam, when a ball he skied, in Ashwin’s direction, deflected off the camera hovering over the MCG, and fell short of the outfielder.
DON’T BOWL SPIN AT THE MCG
There should be a lesson for all teams heading to the MCG this world cup after a slew of sixes off slow bowlers made their heads spin.
Indian Axar Patel was hit for three massive maximums off his lone over, which went for 21 runs. Then Pakistan tweaker Nawaz copped similar treatment, also hit for a hat trick of sixes off his third over.
The boundaries at the MCG are the biggest in the tournament, but not so big they can’t be cleared.
Haris Rauf is in the Pakistan team because of what he did in the Big Bash.
The former tape-ball player was elevated from grade cricket in Tasmania to the Melbourne Stars three seasons ago and took to the MCG for his country like a man possessed.
Rauf roared in time and again, hitting 150khm with some of his deliveries, netted … and celebrated so hard he slipped over, but slipped emphatically and with passion.
A STAR IS BORN
Playing just his 14th T20 International, and his first World Cup game, Arshdeep Singh didn’t just remove Azam with his first ball, he took 3-32, having told himself before the game to “have fun” as he took to the MCG for the first time.
“I just wanted to enjoy the moment, it will never come again,” he said.
His first World Cup game, and MCG debut, won’t come again, but plenty more wickets are in the 23-year-old’s future.