With no Kohli around, world cricket would miss the epic encounter between Kohli and Amir….
Going into the Asia Cup 2018, both India and Pakistan have some notable absentees from their squad. For Pakistan, it is the experienced all-rounders Mohammad Hafeez and Imad Wasim. For India, there is no bigger a name missing than the captain himself, Virat Kohli. Kohli is currently the best batsmen across formats. The shine of the Asia Cup is already taken away with his absence. The world was keen to see another India vs Pakistan battle, with both teams playing their best team. More importantly, the Kohli vs Mohammad Amir battle was highly anticipated after their two mouth-watering clashes in the Asia Cup and ICC World T20 in 2016.
The mutual admiration between Amir and Kohli is well known. While Kohli termed the left-arm pacer as one of the toughest bowlers he has faced, Amir returned the favour by calling Kohli “the best”. Kohli also handed Amir one of his bats during a practice session ahead of a match between the two neighbours.
Before Amir’s 5-year ban, Kohli and Amir had faced each other just twice – once in the Champions Trophy 2009 at Centurion and then in the Asia Cup 2010 at Dambulla. Kohli at that point was still fighting for a place in the Indian side and was not a permanent fixture. Amir, on the other hand, had terrorised many strong batting attacks around the world and was easily one of the best young players around.
However, upon his return to international cricket, Amir was determined to prove that he is still the best fast bowler. There is no better stage to prove it than when you are facing some of the big teams and bowling to some of the biggest names in world cricket. The Asia Cup 2016 and the World T20 2016 were such stages for Amir.
Pakistan had a mixed Asia Cup T20 – In their very first match against arch-rivals India, they were bundled out for just 83, inside 18 overs. Amir unleashed his best in that match. He got rid of Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane in the very first over and then returned to dismiss Suresh Raina to reduce India to 8-3 in the third over.
Amir bowled incredibly well to Kohli. Kohli edged, was beaten and also survived a close LBW appeal off Amir, but then had the last laugh as he got the measure of Amir and slammed him for back-to-back boundaries off his final over. Kohli top-scored and took India to a win eventually and India would then go on to win the tournament as well.
Amir was however not done. Amir had a point to prove after Rohit had called him just a “normal bowler”. The very bowler who had got his wicket in the Asia Cup and also dismissed him in the World T20 match at Rohit’s favourite yard, Eden Gardens. Kohli this time faced just three deliveries from Amir as his unbeaten 55 led India to an easy win.
From then on, Amir got better and Kohli continued to pile on the runs. The political tussle between these two nations has denied the world of a chance to watch them against each other in a bilateral series and hence we have to feast our eyes on them whenever they play against each other in a multi-team tournament.
In the group stage of the Champions Trophy 2017, Amir did no taste any success, but Kohli helped himself to an unbeaten 81 off 68 to help India to 319-3. Pakistan were the underdogs in that tournament, but after their loss to India skipper, Sarfraz Ahmed was more determined than ever to help Pakistan win matches. They grew from strength to strength and also beat tournament favourites and hosts England in the semi-final to set up a final with India.
We had yet another Kohli vs Amir battle on our hands. This time Amir had his tail up. With Pakistan having already registered 338 runs, the pressure was on India. Even the best crumble in pressure situations, especially in the final of a big tournament. That’s exactly what happened to India. Amir removed the top three Indian batsmen in quick time and India never really recovered from that. If it was Sachin Tendulkar in the 90s and early 2000s, it was the wicket of Kohli that every bowler holds dearly. You get him, you have one hand on the match. Kohli got a life after he was dropped in the slip, but the very next delivery, Kohli once again fends one outside off and the ball went straight to point. Amir and the entire Pakistan side knew the importance of the wicket and in the end, went home with their maiden Champions Trophy crown.
One can understand why Kohli has been rested for the Asia Cup. After a gruelling tour of England, where he played all matches in all the formats, his body needs some rest. Immediately after the Asia Cup, India play West Indies at home and then head to Australia and then New Zealand as well with very fewer gaps in between. Team India will be on the tad till February-March next year. With the schedule so tight, it made sense for the BCCI to relieve Kohli of his duties for this tournament.
It’s a pity that we will not witness Kohli playing this tournament – thereby missing out on watching one of the best in action. If India vs Pakistan contest was not spicy enough, the September 19 contest at Dubai, would have been added more flavour with the Kohli vs Amir battle. Sadly, millions have been left disappointed.