Dubai: Virat Kohli and KL Rahul ensured that India start their World Cup campaign on a winning note after weathering a horrible start in chasing a low target of 200 in 50 overs against Australia in Chennai on Sunday.
Down three wickets for two runs, with three batters out for zero, the hosts were facing the barrel on a spin-friendly wicket. But Kohli and Rahul, who had played a similar role against Pakistan in the Asia Cup recently in Sri Lanka, guided India to a six-wicket win to give the Men in Blue their first World Cup win over Australia at the venue.
Chasing 200 for a win, Australian struck triple blows early in Indian innings and their role was greatly made easier by Ishan Kishan, who replaced Shubman Gill, who is yet to recover from dengue, and Shreyas Iyer. The duo didn’t show the required mental fortitude to soak up the pressure early in the innings, which is the prerequisite in a low-scoring game.
Skipper Rohit Sharma was struck on the pads off Josh Hazlewood that swung in late and things could have been worse when Kohli, who was looking tentative early in the innings but was roughing it up, was dropped by Mitchell Marsh when the Indian talisman was 12 in the eighth over. However, Kohli grabbed the chance with both hands to guide India to safety before losing his wicket when India were 33 runs away, after a battling 85.
Rahul, on the other hand, was confidence personified, bringing the much-needed calmness to the chase. The Karnataka batter, moving down the order, has given great stability to the batting and seems to be enjoying it more as his compact technical skills and the mental strength allow him to manoeuvre the middle overs. Rahul finished three runs short of a stunning century, but he was happy to take India home.
Kohli, in his 2.0, seems to be making his presence count. In recent times, when the wickets are falling at other end, the Indian talisman has been steadying the innings and ensures that he stays till the end. The sweltering condition had its effect on the players, but Kohli and Rahul kept running hard, rotating the strike and maintaining the momentum.
The Indian spinners, led by Ravindra Jadeja, dashed Australia’s hopes of setting up a big target by claiming five wickets in the middle overs. After Kuldeep Yadav broke the threatening second-wicket partnership between opener David Warner and Steve Smith, Jadeja got into the act and dismissed the next three wickets to put Australian innings in a spin. Australia were dismissed for 199 in 49.3 overs.
Five takeaways from India’s opener against Australia
A winning start is extremely important for a team in a long tournament of such magnitude. Coming in against another top contenders like Australia will not only boost India’s chances for qualifying for the semi-finals, but it will also be a big morale-booster to the Men in Blue to believe in themselves. After being down on the mat, this sort of performances will give the top order the faith, which will help them to play with great freedom.
Spin trio unplayable
India always had a good spin attack but the trio of Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin have showed what devastating effect they could have on a wicket that assists spin. The advantage Ashwin and Jadeja had on the Chennai pitch is that they have played numerous games at Chepauk. It is the Indian off-spinner’s home turf and Jadeja is the wrecker-in-chief for five-time Indian Premier League champions Chennai Super Kings. That knowledge came in handy. So is the case with Josh Hazlewood, probably the best of the Australian bowlers, who had also played in Chennai. The Indian bowling attack looks relentless with Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj starting the bowling with the rest of the spinners to follow.
Wickets will be favourable to spin
From the first match, it looks like the hosts have found their winning recipe, dry, low-bounce, turning tracks. It is quite understandable as the India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only teams with some quality spin options. And as the tournament progresses, it will only get worse.
Ishan Kishan misses a golden chance
The left-handed opener returned to the team after Shubman Gill was ruled out due to illness. Kishan was in a similar situation in Asia Cup when he came in as a last-minute replacement to Rahul and Kishan made his presence count by rescuing India from difficult situation along with Hardik Pandya against Pakistan. If one expected him to produce a similar performance, it was a big let down. Kishan should learn to shift to lower gears according to the situation, instead of always playing on the top gear. Gill’s return is invaluable to the team’s progress as he is capable of giving a good start.
Australia batting and bowling looks hollow
Five-time champions Australia are looking a little undercooked. They seemed to have got their team selection wrong and not picking enough spinners in the team has bit them in their first game itself. Adam Zampa could not make any impact on the game and Glenn Maxwell, despite getting enough assistance from the wicket, they could not break the partnership between Kohli and Rahul. The batting too is heavily depended on the two veterans Warner and Smith. They need to find ways to produce a much better show in the future games to book a place in the semi-finals.