The beast that has been lurking around the shires of the United Kingdom awoke and let out a spine-chlling, blood curdling roar in London on Sunday. At the Oval, Australia’s bowlers faced the wrath of the Indian batting line up, one of the scariest of its kind assembled, and try as they might, the “away” team could not overcome either the men in blue or the sea of the same hue in the stands.
When Virat Kohli won the toss and chose to bat first, it was a bold decision. Certainly it appeared to be the right one, but even that needed the batsmen to dig deep, apply themselves and do the job to justify the faith the captain had in his band of batting brothers.
Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma had a torrid start against South Africa, playing and missing, edging and slicing early on as overhead conditions and pumped up bowlers asked more questions than a toddler on his first visit to the zoo. At the Oval the situation could not have been more different. Rohit Sharma was completely assured, leaving decisively, defending stoutly and choosing wisely, striking his first boundary as late as the 30th ball he faced.
Dhawan, for his part, was showing signs of his old self. At his best, the left-hand batsmen gets beautifully beside the line of the ball, allowing his hands to describe an unimpeded arc when he addresses the ball. The other thing that peak Dhawan does is move in his crease while the ball is still coming at him. This could be forward and back or laterally, but the trick to pulling it off is having his head perfectly still when he plays the ball. What this allows Dhawan to do is hit the ball to unusual angles in the ground, ensuring the highest value for shots as the ball finds gaps rather than fielders.
The openers had added 127 before the first mistake was made, Rohit fishing a touch outside off to Nathan Coulter-Nile and edging to the keeper. The dhols that belted out a playlist of Indian cricket’s now customary songs, from Mere Desh Ki Dharti to Yeh Dosti to Chak de India — temporarily fell silent, but only to afford Kohli a full-throated welcome to the crease.
Kohli likes to let the opposition know who is boss at the crease, but even he took a moment to assess the conditions, allowed the luxury by Dhawan, who had begun to up the ante. Driving gloriously through cover against spin, punching powerfully back past the bowler against pace and gliding the ball behind square, Dhawan open the tap, runs flowing off his blade quicker than the beer filling cups in the stands.
It was only after Dhawan had completed his third World Cup century, and sixth in all ICC events, did he fall, playing one big shot too many. But, having made 117 off only 109 balls, and pushed India’s score to 220, Dhawan had more than done his job, and, more importantly, laid down the marker for this edition of a tournament he treats as a personal buffet.
At No. 4, out walked Hardik Pandya, the situation laid out perfectly for his long levers. But, before he could flex those tattooed biceps he tried to be too cute, opening the face of the bat to steer the ball to third man. The wicketkeeper moving to his right should have gloved the generous offering but Alex Carey fumbled the ball. Boy did Australia pay for it. Pandya put Kohli completely in the shade, something that does not happen too often with an idiosyncratically brutal assault.
A wide yorker, the safest ball in the modern game, was deftly jammed to third man for four; a slightly wide ball was rapiered to the point fence; a full delivery whistled over the non-striker’s head to land in the stands and the legspinner was clouted over square-leg for a six to the longest boundary available. When Pandya finally fell, he had blasted 48 from only 27 balls, hitting four fours and three sixes. The more predictable among us say that catches win matches, but on the day the Carey grant to Pandya turned the game, allowing India to blast off.
Given just how well all the other pieces had fallen into place, a Kohli century seemed inevitable, but he neither got the amount of strike needed to get to three figures and nor did he chase it. An accomplished 82 was Kohli’s contribution as India put 352 runs on the board.
Australia attempted to replicate India’s batting template and for a time kept pace, even offering a genuine scare when Glenn Maxwell rattled off 28 from only 14 balls, but without a big score to anchor their innings they were never going to get across the line, making it two wins in two for India.
This article first appeared in the Economic Times