India finish on top, to take on NZ in semis

SUPERB: India’s KL Rahul en route his composed century against Sri Lanka at Headingley, Leeds on Saturday. reuters

The planes repeatedly flying over the stadium with political messages may have diverted the attention every now and then, but it did little to disturb the focus of the Indian players who systematically dismantled Sri Lanka in their final World Cup league match to finish on top of the league.

Jasprit Bumrah’s fiery first spell put a spanner in Sri Lanka’s hopes of a putting up a big total after winning the toss on a good batting surface, and Rohit Sharma (103, 94b, 14x4, 1x6) and K L Rahul (111, 118b, 11x4, 1x6) then sewn up a massive stand of 189 for the opening wicket as India made short work of their 265-run target, replying with 265/3 in 43.3 overs for a seven-wicket in, here at Headingley on Saturday.

With this win, India moved to 15 points which helped them finish ahead of Australia (14 points), who suffered a 10-run loss to South Africa in their last league match in Manchester later in the day on Saturday. India will now face New Zealand in their semifinal on July 9 in Manchester, and if they finish behind Australia, they will meet England in the second last-four match on July 11 in Birmingham.

On a belter of a wicket, Sri Lanka were reduced to 55/4, and the manner in which Angelo Mathews (113, 128b, 10x4, 2x6) and Lahiru Thirimmane (53, 68b, 4x4) batted showed the demons were in batsmen’s head and not in the pitch.

Rohit and Rahul, however, weren’t going to fritter away their scoring chances on a featherbed. While Rohit was aggressive from the beginning, Rahul was happy playing the second fiddle. Rohit once again was imperious, essaying some delectable flicks off his pads and exquisite square drives. He dominated the Lankan attack without resorting to anything fancy. He was at ease against the pace of Lasith Malinga and Kasun Rajitha, punishing them each time they erred in their lines.

By the time the lone spinner – Dananjaya de Silva -- was introduced to the attack, he was well set to lay waste to the off-spinner. Rohit sent his first ball sailing over long-off before stepping out to hit an even bigger six a ball later. Soon, the right-hander brought up his record-breaking fifth century in a single edition of the World Cup, surpassing Kumar Sangakkara’s feat of four tons in 2015. The India vice-captain, however, missed equaling Sachin Tendulkar’s mark of 673 runs in 2003 by 26 runs.

The openers brought up India’s 100 in 18.1 overs with Rohit’s contribution being 60 off 52 balls as against Rahul’s 38 off 56. But Rahul changed gears in the 23rd over when he chose de Silva for some special treatment, clubbing him for two fours and a six in four balls.

With both the batsmen upping the ante, runs flowed freely before Rohit hit Rajitha straight to Mathews at mid-off, ending the massive partnership (181 balls) which bettered their own record of 180 against Bangladesh for the opening wicket in this World Cup. Having failed to convert his fifties into big knocks, Rahul finally made his start count with only his second ODI century of his career.

In the morning, Bumrah (3/27) was just unplayable in his first spell of four overs (4-2-14-2). Even as Bhuvneshwar Kumar leaked runs at the other end, Bumrah kept a tight leash at the other as he started off with two maiden overs. He was fast, accurate and got the ball straight up a bit after pitching and because of the angle he bowls, picking his lines became difficult for the batsmen.

The inclusion of Ravindra Jadeja (1/40) paid instant results as the left-arm spinner – coming in place of Mohammad Shami -- struck with his fourth ball of the day while Kuldeep Yadav (1/58), replacing Yuzvendra Chahal, was just about fine. While Hardik Pandya’s bowling continued to be a bonus, it was apparent that India were missing a sixth-bowling option that can prove costly against a better team.

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