India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni called it a nearly complete game. For, it was a night on which the team’s sensibly professional approach outplayed Pakistan by 76 runs at the wonderful Adelaide Oval to spark its Group B campaign in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.
As India extended their run of victories over Pakistan to six in World Cup matches, Dhoni could draw pride from the fact that each of his team-mates pulled his weight and contributed. Virat Kohli led the way with a mature hundred, his 22nd in ODI cricket. He shared contrasting century stands with Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina as India made 300 for 7.
Mohammed Shami led the bowling effort with a four-wicket haul, including scalping veteran Younis Khan with a bouncer, while Umesh Yadav returned from a none-too-happy opening spell to claim two wickets in three deliveries and spark Pakistan’s slide from 102 for 2 to 103 for 5 in the span of eight deliveries.
Mohit Sharma was miserly when he came on to bowl as early as in the seventh over while offspinner R Ashwin played the stifling role and picked up Haris Sohail’s wicket after he had a 68-run second-wicket stand with Ahmed Shehzad. Ravindra Jajdeja was not to be left behind as he claimed Umar Akmal’s wicket, thanks to the DRS confirming Dhoni’s claim of a catch.
It was not the only Dhoni decision that worked on Sunday. He backed Dhawan to come good on the big occasion despite his lack of form; he also promoted Suresh Raina to bat at No 4 because he believed the situation – 163 for 2 in the 30th over – was more suited to the left-hander than Ajinkya Rahane. Both men rewarded him with half-centuries.
The game was set up admirably by Kohli and Dhawan. They quickly calmed any nerves they may have felt, showed patience in abundance and maturity to keep the scoreboard ticking with sharp running between the wickets and boundaries when they were on offer. It was almost like they were batting in a Test match, except when they took on Yasir Shah.
Raina took a while to settle down but he was able to play the big shots, almost at will, and powered the 110-run stand with Kohli. The Pakistanis predictably tried bowling short deliveries to him but he was ready for such a tactic. Crucially, he prolonged his stay till India lost a rash of wickets and added only 27 runs in the last five overs.
If Dhoni’s plan worked well, none of Misbah-ul-Haq’s key decisions proved beneficial for the team. From choosing to leave wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed out and entrust the big gloves to Umar Akmal – who dropped Kohli on 76 – and from picking inexperienced legspinner Yasir Shah to making Younis open the innings, Pakistan were confronted by failure.
If we have left dwelling on Kohli’s century till so late, it reflects the whole Indian team’s intensity on Sunday. Having made hundreds in each innings in the opening Test here in December, he returned to the Oval to leave his imprint again.
Walking in at the fall of Rohit Sharma’s wicket, Kohli seemed very eager to get into attacking mode but calmed himself down and embraced a stunningly anchoring approach. Once the new cricket balls had lost their zing, he played a smart knock in keeping with the demands of one of the trickiest games in World Cup competition.
It let Dhoni speak about the belief players have in one another, despite the results on the tour of Australia not being what the team would have liked. “It is job of a leader and the management group to ensure that the morale is high,” Dhoni said. On the evidence of a mentally draining game, Dhoni has done well to ensure that India came out all guns blazing.
Brief scores: India 300/7 (Kohli 107, Raina 74, Dhawan 73; Sohail Khan 5/55) beat Pakistan 224 all out in 47 overs (Misbah 76; Shami 4/35) by 76 runs