Kohli stars as India stay afloat
India kept their World Twenty20 campaign alive and also gave South Africa fresh hope of reaching the semi-finals with a convincing eight-wicket victory over fierce rivals Pakistan in Colombo.
After being thrashed by Australia in their opening Super Eights fixture, India knew defeat today would end their chances of reclaiming the trophy they lifted in 2007 - and also eliminate the Proteas.
Under extreme pressure, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men responded by limiting Pakistan, who won the toss, to 128 all out. Recalled paceman Lakshmipathy Balaji led the way with 3-22, while spinners Yuvraj Singh and Ravichandran Ashwin combined for figures of 4-32 from seven overs, with the former also effecting a run-out.
Although India lost Gautam Gambhir for a duck in reply, Virat Kohli ensured a modest target proved well within their reach.
The number three displayed his usual degree of elegance and assurance in striking 78 not out from 61 balls, although he was dropped on 42 and 64.
Virender Sehwag, recalled at the top of the order, contributed 29 to a second-wicket partnership of 74, while Yuvraj was there on 19 when India made it home with three overs to spare.
Pakistan’s innings was undermined by two collapses after they had taken 26 from the first two overs while losing Imran Nazir, who was trapped lbw by Irfan Pathan for eight.
Shahid Afridi, promoted to three, hinted at a significant contribution before holing out to deep midwicket off Balaji and Yuvraj then had Nasir Jamshed and Kamran Akmal caught behind in successive overs.
When skipper Mohammad Hafeez played on to part-time medium-pacer Kohli, having used up 28 deliveries in labouring to 15, Pakistan were in deep trouble on 59 for five.
A sixth-wicket stand of 47 between Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal steadied the ship, but the final five wickets then went down for just 22 runs as Ashwin and Balaji applied the squeeze once again.
Ashwin, operating with guile on a sticky surface, had both set batsmen caught on the pull. A fired-up Yuvraj then ran out Yasir Arafat with a direct hit from point and Balaji returned to have Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal caught behind in the final over.
Pakistan were boosted when Gambhir provided Raza Hasan with a simple return catch from the second legal delivery of India's innings, yet Sehwag and Kohli prospered thereafter to put their side in complete control.
Sehwag, who played a series of wristy flicks against the spinners, was content to operate in a largely restrained manner. The first of his four boundaries, however, came courtesy of a trademark cut that whistled past backward point.
The opener was eventually caught at long-off in looking to take the attack to Afridi, but Kohli remained and struck Afridi and Ajmal down the ground for maximums either side of gaining a reprieve when a diving Umar failed to hold on to a tough chance at backward point.
An increasingly positive Kohli was put down again in the 16th over by Nazir - running in from deep midwicket - but by that stage a resounding India victory was a formality.