Virat Kohli channelised his inner champion to pull the Indian team out of choppy waters with a masterly 85, which paved the way for a six-wicket victory over Australia in their opening match of the World Cup in Chennai on Sunday. Kohli found a trusted ally in uber-cool KL Rahul (97 not out off 115 balls) during their match-winning stand of 165 that eventually made the 200-run target seem like a cakewalk on a testing track although they took 41.2 overs to achieve it. Their doughty alliance came after three Indian top-order batters returned to the pavilion without troubling the scorers.
But equally responsible for India getting two points are their spinners. Ravindra Jadeja (3/28 in 10 overs) along with Ravichandran Ashwin (2/34 in 10 overs) and Kuldeep Yadav (2/42 in 10 overs) made life miserable for the Australians while bowling them out for 199 in 49.3 overs.
But Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood were incisive during the first three overs as Ishan Kishan, Rohit Sharma and Shreyas Iyer were walked back for ducks and the scoreboard read a sorry 2/3.
The audacious Kohli, whom the Indian fans fall in love with again every day, showed the first glimpse of fightback and unfurled an elegant drive past pacer Hazlewood, a shot that was worth million dollars.
Gauging that the ball is not coming onto the bat, Kohli slightly put his front-foot across and showed full face of the bat, rather than being rooted to the crease.
India weren’t out of the woods at that point but it felt as if nothing was wrong. However, it could well have been 12 for 4 in no time.
Kohli mistimed a pull shot off Hazlewood but a running-in Mitchell Marsh failed to settle in properly under the ball as it slipped through his hand.
Skipper Rohit spoke about a bit of luck which is mandatory in big events and Marsh’s big time bungle was exactly the rub of the green that the hosts needed at that moment.
It was the reprieve that Kohli needed and with the target not being a big one, h e and Rahul focussed on rebuilding the innings with singles and twos.
That 61 of his runs came through singles and doubles during his 116-ball knock stood as a testimony to his fitness.
For nearly 50 deliveries, he didn’t hit a boundary until Cameron Green’s military medium pace was introduced — two deliveries on the pads were clipped away with disdain.
Once he reached 50 off 75 balls, Kohli pulled a slow bouncer from Pat Cummins towards deep mid-wicket.
Starc hit him flush on the helmet with a short delivery when Kohli was batting in the 70s. A concussion test was done and two balls later, a square driven four reiterated that ‘Batter Kohli’ can’t be unnerved that easily.
Just when it looked like Kohli was cruising to his 48th ODI hundred, his pull off Hazlewood found Marnus Labuschagne.
Classy Rahul has a ball
No praise would be enough for Rahul, a man who often gets flak for the chances he wastes.
But on this day, Rahul showed why he is so highly rated. On a pitch where Indian spinners dictated the proceedings, Rahul literally nullified Adam Zampa with a late cut, back cut and an extra cover drive in a single over.
He matched Kohli stroke for stroke and after keeping wickets for 50 overs, Rahul batted for another 41.2 overs to show that he is ready for each and every battle.
In fact, when he realised that Kohli could reach a 48th hundred, he was content taking the singles and doubles until the senior man got out. Rahul hit eight fours and two sixes – the second of which sealed the win.
Jadeja and ‘CSK template’
Earlier, Jadeja became the biggest nemesis among Indian spinners on a tacky Chepauk track to set up the facile win.
Jadeja, who knows the track like the back of his hand, courtesy his decade-plus association with Chennai Super Kings, took 3 for 28 in 10 overs as the slowness of the surface and subtle variations used by the all-rounder became Australia’s undoing.
“I was happy after seeing the track. I knew on this track, even I wouldn’t know which delivery will turn and which delivery will go straight,” he told host broadcaster Star Sports.
It was Jadeja’s show all the way as he tilted the scale in India’s favour with quick dismissals of an under-pressure Steve Smith (46 off 71 balls) and an unusually subdued Labuschagne (27 off 41 balls).
Jadeja, who has dismissed Smith 10 times across formats, hoodwinked his bunny with subtle variations.
Scared of getting trapped in front of the wicket, Smith was consistently trying to keep his pads outside the line of Jadeja’s deliveries.
Jadeja, who was bowling at a pace around 96-97 kmph and not actually turning it much, gauged his ‘bunny’s’ apprehension.
The next delivery Jadeja bowled was at least 5 kmph slower and the ball turned way more than usual. In his bid to negate the leg-before possibility, Smith didn’t cover the delivery which turned past his bat to dislodge the bails.
Australia’s chances of posting a big score were over at that very moment.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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