India hold nerve to nail Aussies

India's Shikhar Dhawan pulls one to the fence en route his century against Australia in London on Sunday. AFP

The outcome of Sunday’s match between India and Australia wasn’t going to have a big say insofar as the teams’ prospects in the tournament were concerned but in terms of momentum and confidence, it certainly was a vital one.

India, up against three big teams in their first three matches, needed a good start and they have got one. After scalping South Africa in their low-scoring opener in Southampton, India put it across Australia in a high-scoring entertainer for their second win here at the Oval. Opting to bat first, India rode on three big partnerships between their top four batsmen to post a mammoth 352/5 in 50 overs before restricting Australia to 316 for a 36-run win.

If Shikhar Dhawan (117, 109b, 16x4), who braved a nasty hit on his left thumb early in his innings and stayed off the field during Australia’s chase, was the main architect of India’s magnificent edifice, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli played equally crucial parts in terms of their approach to batting under the circumstances.

Australia, who got off to a slow start like India, appeared to be in the hunt till Steven Smith (69, 70b, 5x4, 1x6) was at the crease but once Bhuvneshwar Kumar trapped him in front, their hopes took a big hit. Nonetheless, the Aaron Finch-led side made a spirited chase with all the top five batsmen getting good starts only to throw them away.

The Aussies needed someone to play a big innings in such a big chase. The 40th over by Bhuvneshwar was perhaps the game-changer wherein the paceman got rid of both Smith and Marcus Stoinis in the space of three balls. Jasprit Bumrah (3/61) was unusually a bit costly in his second spell but he picked up wickets to neutralise his profligacy. India’s catching and ground fielding too stood out on the day, making Australia’s task that much more difficult. When they batted, India gave the first seven overs to Australian bowlers and then owned the rest of the innings in tailor-made batting conditions.

Dhawan struck his 17th ODI hundred, Rohit (57) brought up his 42nd half-century, Kohli (82) coasted to his 50th fifty, a promoted Pandya played the pinch-hitter’s role to perfection with a 27-ball 48 (4x4, 3x6) and Dhoni betrayed few signs of a man in focus for his insignia row on his way to 14-ball 27 (3x4, 1x6) as India posted the second highest total of this World Cup.   

The first six overs seemed a struggle for the Indian batsmen. Rohit was reprieved early in his innings while Dhawan took some time to get his eyes in. The eighth over of the innings by Nathan Coulter-Nile, however, changed the course of the innings. Dhawan clobbered the paceman for three fours and never took his foot off the accelerator. Dhawan’s aggressive approach took the pressure off Rohit who was happy to play the second fiddle, but it wasn’t long before he too got into the act.

The duo batted intelligently, gave the respect that the new-ball bowlers – Pat Cummins (1/55) and Mitchell Starc (1/74) – deserved and targeted the weaker links. While Coulter-Nile went for over six runs an over, the 20 overs between Glenn Maxwell, Adam Zampa and Marcus Stoinis cost Australia 157 runs. Towards the end, though, no bowler was left unpunished as India clubbed 116 runs from the last 10 overs.

Dhawan expertly constructed his innings; he neither sacrificed the run-rate nor did he play high-risk shots. He was the dominant partner in his 127-run (136 balls) association with Rohit, setting the right platform for a big total. Kohli was in his zone right from the beginning as the Delhi duo enhanced the tempo of the innings on a pitch where the Australians found little purchase.

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