India humiliated five-time champions Australia in their opening encounter of the ICC Men’s World Cup on Sunday at Chennai’s M A Chidambaram Stadium.
After their spin-heavy attack hurried out the five-time champions for 199 with three deliveries left in the Australian innings, the hosts certainly thought their chase to be a piece of cake.
India, on the other hand, got off to a terrible start in their reply, with three of their top four batters falling for ducks – for the first time in an ODI – within the first two overs.
Kohli was dropped on 12 by Mitchell Marsh off Josh Hazlewood and went on to hit 85 as India orchestrated yet another successful chase.
KL Rahul, his partner in the 165-run fourth-wicket partnership, delivered a chanceless 97-run performance as India reached the mark in 41.2 overs.
Virat Kohli scored an important 85 points in the World Cup.
Kohli was caught at midwicket by Josh Hazlewood (3-38), but Rahul (97*) saw India through.
South Africa had set the greatest World Cup score of 428-5 against Sri Lanka on Saturday, but this match was a sub-continental one-day international throwback.
The pitch in Chennai did not lend itself to vast down-the-ground hitting or inventive 360 strokeplay, and the match inevitably devolved into a low-scoring arm wrestle, bucking the pattern of many current white-ball encounters.
While Warner and Smith had performed admirably for Australia, India’s spinners strangled their opponents in the middle overs.
Six of Australia’s top seven were accounted for by spin, led by left-arm tweaker Ravindra Jadeja’s 3-28, laying the way for their quicks to eventually deliver the knockout blow.
The average score in the 10 ODIs played at M. A. Chidambaram Stadium since 2011 was 238, so Australia’s total seemed comfortable for the hosts.
However, India’s response was uneasy, with Rohit Sharma, Ishan Kishan, and Shreyas Iyer all falling without a score as a result of a combination of ill-judged aggressiveness and good bowling from Mitchell Starc (1-31) and Hazelwood.
Kohli and Rahul survived a difficult moment, and after the gleam of the white ball faded and swinging halted, Australia’s attack appeared unthreatening, with skipper Pat Cummins at a loss for ideas on how to take wickets.
The India two were comfortable to accumulate before showing more attacking intent to punish the bad ball as they enjoyed a 165-run fourth-wicket stand before Rahul and Hardik Pandya saw them over the line with 52 balls to spare.
Kohli is crucial in leading India to victory
In a country with a population of 1.4 billion people, where cricket is considered a religion, the hosts’ first World Cup match was unavoidably scrutinized.
The tag of home favorites, though, did not appear to weigh heavy on the shoulders of India’s players on the field.
During the national anthem, their chests were puffed out, and their confidence was unwavering as they rocked Australia for 199 with disciplined bowling and fielding.
India’s strategy of limiting runs in the middle overs with spin, followed by dangerous spells from their pace bowlers, worked.
However, as Starc and Hazlewood made early inroads into their batting, panic briefly struck and subdued the raucous home crowd.
Kohli was a serene presence at the crease, quietly rotating the strike with the equally unfazed Rahul as he adjusted to the pitch’s pace and skilfully moved the ball into gaps.
In the ninth over, he provided a chance by spooning a draw to a short ball from Hazlewood, which Mitch Marsh dropped sliding in when wicketkeeper Alex Carey was better situated to collect the catch.
Despite Rahul’s calm knock, the psychological impact of India losing their star player at that moment could have swayed the outcome.
Until he was caught at mid-wicket by Marnus Labuschagne when Kohli came a cropper on the pull, this was a faultless knock from the 34-year-old in what could be his final 50-over World Cup.
If India were to win their first major white-ball competition since the 2013 Champions Trophy, Kohli will undoubtedly play a significant role in the coming weeks.
Rohit Sharma (capt), Ishan Kishan, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj
David Warner, Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, Glenn Maxwell, Alex Carey (wk), Cameron Green, Pat Cummins (capt), Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa, Josh Hazlewood