The juggernaut that is this Indian cricket team under Rohit Sharma continues to plough through anything in its way, the latest roadkill being second-ranked South Africa who were bowled out for just 83 at Eden Gardens yesterday to hand the tournament favourites victory by 243 runs. The same South Africa, mind you, who had lost one previous match this World Cup and who routinely rack up 350 on the might of a superb top seven.
And yet under the pressure of chasing a target of 327 set after another superb start in the Powerplay from Rohit and Virat Kohli’s landmark 49th ODI century, South Africa’s all too familiar frailties when batting second came to the fore. Quinton de Kock, with over 500 runs and four centuries in the tournament, chopped onto his stumps for five to give Mohammed Siraj the breakthrough. Either side of terrific but wicketless bowling from Jasprit Bumrah, Temba Bavuma was left clueless against Ravindra Jadeja and Aiden Markram nicked off another peach of a ball from Mohammed Shami. Rassie van der Dussen and Heinrich Klaasen were then lbw to Shami and Jadeja respectively – both came after successful reviews – as South Africa slipped to 40/5 in the 14th over.
The slide continued with Jadeja adding David Miller and Keshav Maharaj on the way to his first five-wicket haul at a World Cup, and the innings folded in 27.1 overs. South Africa, thus, failed to score what India, thanks to Rohit’s blazing 40 off 24 deliveries, scored in their first 10 overs.
Three days after rolling over Sri Lanka for 55 as they completed a 302-run victory, it was once again India’s bowlers who stretched the massive gulf between them and all other attacks in this World Cup. And yet the talking point of the match was the crowd favourite, Kohli, who on his 35th birthday finally drew level with Tendulkar at the top of the list of most ODI hundreds.
After Rohit’s terrific cameo on a sluggish surface, Kohli put on 134 for the third wicket, off 158 deliveries, with Shreyas Iyer who got 77 from 87. Though nowhere near top gear, Kohli absorbed the losses of Rohit and Shubman Gill (23) and raised hope of a 300-plus total. That India ended with 326 was down to Kohli’s patience, yes, but it must be stressed on that he made just 26 runs off 26 balls in the final ten overs when fully set. Kohli’s unwillingness to hit the ball in the air left it to Iyer – who managed just 11 off his first 34 balls and 54 from his next 44 – to start shifting gears, and he fell almost immediately.
KL Rahul looked out of sorts and fell for 8 off 17 trying to get a move on, and Suryakumar Yadav had no option but to swing for the boundaries given how the innings had started to stall. He got as far as 22 from 14 before he mistimed a big shot and was well taken by a diving de Kock, and then Jadeja contributed 29 not out off 15 balls with some impeccable boundary-hitting.
As it panned out, South Africa failed to get even to 100, so poor was their approach under lights. But one cannot shake the feeling that India left 35 runs out on the field, because Kohli was so hell-bent on getting to his landmark century. It has not hurt India in the four times that Kohli has slowed down when nearing a century at this World Cup, and probably will not, given how excellent India’s bowlers have been, but it is a precautionary warning sign ahead of the knockouts where we all know India really struggle.
For now, though, Indian cricket fans can bask in 8-0, the brilliance of India’s bowling and Kohli levelling with his idol Tendulkar on 49 ODI centuries. This a team cut from a different cloth, so utterly dominant at home. Rohit has led from the front an aggressive opener, Kohli has absorbed the limelight and the high expectations to churn out almost 550 runs so far and the supporting acts have all contributed. For India to lift the World Cup, Rohit and Kohli had to fire and the bowling had to be on the mark. So far, the two white-ball batting icons have done superbly, and promise to keep doing so until the trophy is captured. The bowling? Well, that has been the most mesmerizing aspect of the Indian cricket team’s unparalleled run at the World Cup.