Why We Watch Cricket: Kohli, Dhoni, and the Art of Chasing

First of all, let’s get one thing straight — Right now, we don’t have a batting line-up. We only have Virat Kohli.

When he scores we prevail, when he falters we fail. In that sense more than anything else, he is like Sachin Tendulkar.

And yet we’re winning more matches than in the time of the Little Master. How? That’s because we have another genius at the helm — M S Dhoni.

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There was a time when we couldn’t even score 250 in an ODI. And here we are today, chasing down 350+ targets, scoring at over 8 an over, with balls to spare!

That’s the result of the combination of two lively streams — one, the raw, brute talent of Virat Kohli; and two, the calm genius of MS Dhoni.

Together (and separately) they have scripted some of the most improbable run chases in the history of the game.

India's Virat Kohli and captain MS Dhoni come off the field after India won the semi-final match against South Africa in the ICC Twenty20 World Cup at the Sher-E-Bangla National Cricket Stadium in Dhaka
“Virat still needs to pay me. I was running his runs.” – MSD after the match with Australia.

And I think the keyword here is “improbable” because we’ve won matches out nowhere. Literally.

Think of the last two matches. Verses Bangladesh! Wow, that was a goner. 2 runs off 3 balls. And this happens:

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The 6-inches of dirt that chocked an entire nation. (India vs Bangladesh, Bengaluru, 2016 — India win by 1 run)

Granted, that was a match Bangladesh lost, and not so much as India won. The next match though — India vs Australia — a virtual quarter-final, well that’s a tale for the bards to write songs about.

Generations from now, when chasing will become a science, when the knowledge will be compiled and books will be written, when coaches and captains will debate furiously on how to chase, this innings by Virat Kohli will be the one that will guide them.

The analysts and pundits and men of stats and numbers can look at this run chase from any angle they want — they’ll all end up with the same conclusion: this was a masterclass and nothing short of a bloody miracle. 

Virat’s that innings was the reason we watch sports. It’s triumph and glory and the sweet smell of success. It’s the visceral feeling of victory, the rush of adrenalin, the exasperation, the satisfaction.

It’s also the fear and the doubt. It’s the slight glimmer of hope in the darkness of doom. And it’s the reason to persist and persevere.

But sometimes, that’s not enough.

After Australia came West Indies. No one expected them to win. No one expected us to lose. Definitely not after the start we got.

Rohit Sharma demolished the Windies bowling. Virat gave India a heart attack on the third ball he faced but then went on to blast an unbeaten 89 off 47. Again, pure masterclass. The God of Cricket sat in the balcony and smiled.

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All was well. Until it was not…

Sometimes performance is not enough. You need to have luck go your way. It didn’t for us. And for all the star power we possessed, we lost the semis.

And that’s why Cricket is such a leveler. We didn’t lose because of a wrong decision, or bad weather, or a flat pitch. We lost because, on the day, West Indies played better cricket than us.

That’s it. Plain and simple.

And so it is in Cricket as it is in life:

Sometimes we win, sometimes we learn.

But no matter what — win or lose, we’re proud of you Team India. Don’t let your heads down. You fought with courage and heart. And that’s all that matters to us.

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