Captain Rohit Sharma's stunning assault gave India a big total to defend against Australia in their final Super Eight match on Monday. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Class players make it look simple when they are in full flow, and Rohit Sharma did exactly that when he toyed with a potent Australian attack to give India a big total in their final Super Eight clash in St Lucia on Monday. India won the match by 24 runs to rightfully book a place in the semi-finals. The Men in Blue will meet defending champions England in a repeat of the 2022 semi-finals in Australia.

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Rohit was at his sublime best and took the attack to the opposition from the start. The Indian skipper seemed to have come with a plan and executed his assault to perfection, catching the Australians napping. Rohit has the gift of amazing timing, and he found many deliveries to dispatch over the fence.

Even the odd deliveries that he didn’t find the sweet spot, the wind carried the ball over the fence. While Rohit was at ease, the other Indian batters seemed to struggle to keep pace, giving the impression Rohit was batting on a different surface. The difference in class was evident for all to witness and enjoy.

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Travis Head once again tormented Indian bowlers with a stunning counter-attack, but he didn't receive enough support from other batters. Image Credit: AFP

Struggles of the Australian batters

Barring Australian opener Travis Head, none of the other batters could match up with Rohit Sharma, who missed what would have been a deserving century by eight runs. The brief rain interruption early in the innings, after smoking Mitchell Starc for 29 runs in one over, did not stop his flow, and he finished way above the rest with a strike rate of 224. World No. 1 batter Suryakumar Yadav tried to come close, but still could not reach his Mumbai Indians teammate’s scoring spree.

Rohit has a tendency to prefer the leg side more, but this knock showed that he could be as effortless in hitting sixes over the covers to set the stage for India to go past the 200-run mark, only the third occasion in this World Cup where the bowlers have held sway over the batters.

“I thought right from over No. 1, there was a strong breeze blowing across. They changed their plan, bowling against the breeze, so I realised I had to open up the off side as well. The bowlers were smart to alter their approach, so I had to open up all sides of the field. When you keep an open mind, you can access all areas of the field,” said Rohit Sharma.

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Rohit Sharma altered his approach to showcase his total batting against Australia. Image Credit: AFP

Record-breaking performance

The 37-year-old India skipper, who completed his half-century in 19 balls to become the joint-fourth fastest for India, rewrote several records en route to his 41-ball 92. He equalled Chris Gayle’s 130 sixes against Australia, including a 110-metre massive blow, while surpassing Pakistan skipper Babar Azam as the all-time leading run-getter in Twenty20 cricket with 4,165 runs in 157 matches.

But Rohit said he was not looking at records or completing his century.

“I wanted to bat with the same tempo and make big scores, but at the same time you want the bowlers to think where the next shot is coming. It’s quite satisfying, especially when you play like that. We knew the threat of this opposition, but we kept doing the things we know best, and we can take a lot of confidence from that. 200 is obviously a good score, but when you’re playing on grounds like this where wind is a factor, anything is possible.”

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Indian players celebrate the win against Australia, which gave them a spot in the semi-finals.

What next for Australia

Chasing a target of 206 was never going to be easy on a wicket that has considerably slowed when the ball loses its shine. But Head was on target to inflict more wounds on the Indian bowlers after his stunning century in the final of the 50-over World Cup silenced the 100,000 spectators at the gigantic stadium in Ahmedabad, and millions all over the world.

The loss of wickets at regular intervals after Mitch Marsh was dismissed off a spectacular catch by Axar Patel caused the Australian innings to nosedive. When Jasprit Bumrah dismissed Head for  76, Australia's challenge was as good as over.

The second loss in two days has left the 2021 Twenty20 champions perilously close to elimination. Now they must hope that Bangladesh will defeat Afghanistan, but the Asian giant-killers will have the advantage of increasing their net run-rate in the last Super Eight match on Tuesday morning (4:30 AM UAE).

Australian players celebrate the dismissal of India's Virat Kohli. The opener's wicket was the only solace for the 2021 champions early in the game. Image Credit: AFP

Surprises in the World Cup

This World Cup has continued to throw plenty of surprises. Test nations Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and New Zealand bowed out in the group stage, while co-hosts West Indies have been making rapid strides in world cricket after missing out on the 50-over World Cup for the first time in the history of the showpiece. Now Australia could follow suit if Afghanistan manages to beat Bangladesh.

The easy win must have given Indian fans a sigh of relief, but Australians must be fretting the outcome of the match between Afghanistan and Bangladesh. A big win for Bangladesh will also give the Tigers a fighting chance. There was a time when England were at the mercy of Australia, when some players even suggested that the Australians should lose to Scotland to eliminate England, may be in a light-hearted manner. But now the Australians are at the mercy of Bangladesh.

This World Cup is literally going to the wire, and with so many close games, it will be in the memory of the fans for long. For now, the Indian team can have a well-deserved break along with England and South Africa.