Virat Kohli
India’s Virat Kohli raises his bat after completing a century against South Africa in the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 at Eden Gardens in Kolkata, India, on November 5, 2023. With his 49th ODI century, he equalled Sachin Tendulkar’s record. The unbeaten 101 was Kohli’s second century of the tournament. Image Credit: ANI

Another demolition! India’s 243-run win is massive. That too over South Africa, one of the strongest teams in the Cricket World Cup 2023. The fearsome batting has been skittled for 83 at Eden Gardens, Kolkata. How did India do it?

Sunday’s game was a litmus test for India, who had been barnstorming through the tournament. But it ended in a whimper. More like a mismatch. What happened to the batting might of South Africa? After all, they had posted five scores of over 300, including one over 400. All that came while batting first.

It’s well-known that the Proteas hate to chase. They had slumped to an unlikely defeat against the less-fancied Netherlands and were lucky to scrape home by a wicket against Pakistan. A clear sign of their fragility under pressure. So India exploited this weakness, with skipper Rohit Sharma opting to bat first.

How Rohit Sharma led from the front

Winning the toss counts for nothing, if teams can’t run up a good score. Sharma showed how to do it with a stroke-filled 40. Virat Kohli built on it with a well-crafted century to help India score 326, making the job easy for the bowlers.

Kohli’s second century of the tournament was also his 49th in One-Day Internationals. It made his 35th birthday special, with the ton equalling Sachin Tendulkar’s feat. With three more games left, Kohli could own the record.

The record aside, Kohli’s unbeaten 101 (121 balls) helped India take the game away from South Africa. His 134-run third wicket stand with Shreyas Iyer was a masterclass in playing on a slow, spin-friendly pitch. It wasn’t easy, but Kohli and Iyer could take their time to wear down the Proteas’s attack after the early enterprise of skipper Sharma and Shubman Gill, who fetched 91 runs in the first powerplay.

Ravindra Jadeja
India’s Ravindra Jadeja celebrates after taking the wicket of South Africa’s David Miller during the 2023 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, India, on November 5, 2023. Jadeja’s five-wicket haul is the first by an Indian spinner since Yuvraj Singh in 2011. Image Credit: AFP

That allowed Kohli to play like Kohli: hard-run singles with the ball placed into the gaps and turning singles in twos with gusto. Yes, there was the cover drive, but a sumptuous on-drive was the best.

Shreyas Iyer has been a revelation in the World Cup. He’s been quietly and efficiently playing an integral role at No. 4. Usually, he picks up the tempo straight away, allowing Kohli to do the Kohli thing of batting deep into the innings. Keshav Maharaj’s 8-degree deviation to dismiss Gill would have spooked most batters but not Iyer. He grafted well against Maharaj and attacked other bowlers at every opportunity. With Kohli, he laid the cornerstone of Indian victory.

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Ravindra Jadeja, who must have been smacking his lips at the sight of Maharaj’s turning deliveries, provided the finishing touches to become the second Indian spinner after Yuvraj Singh to take five wickets in a World Cup game. But not before Mohammed Shami continued his seam magic, scalping Rassie van der Dussen and Aiden Markram. It was indeed a superb show from a classy bowling unit.

Eight wins in eight games make India a juggernaut. They could finish as the lone unbeaten team beating the Netherlands next week. The match is only of academic interest as India have already qualified for the semifinals.

The knockout phase, that’s a different ball game.