It was one of the most eagerly awaited matches of the entire tournament, scheduled for the opening weekend of the tournament at the Adelaide Oval in front of a capacity crowd that sold out in less than 15 minutes. It doesn’t get any bigger than India v Pakistan at the ICC Cricket World Cup and Virat Kohli showed why he is one the biggest stars of the modern game with a glorious century to get India’s defence off to the perfect start
The Adelaide Oval, packed and vibrant as it savoured cricket’s most colourful rivalry, was a theatre of dreams on a memorable Sunday.
India v Pakistan on any cricket field is guaranteed to be an unmissable event. When it is on a stage as grand as the ICC Cricket World Cup, in front of 41,587 passionate fans, it makes for the kind of spectacle that few other sporting showdowns can rival.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men roused themselves into a thrilling display. Virat Kohli’s 22nd One-day International century, which split entertaining half-centuries from Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina, set up India’s impressive 300 for 7. The bowlers then stepped up, impressing with not just their intent but also their execution, they joined hands in a rip-roaring collective exhibition to bowl Pakistan out for 224. Victory on the night by a massive 76 runs.
There was something different about Kohli on Sunday (February 15). For one thing, the lynchpin of the Indian batting wasn’t at his very best. He called the first hundred by an Indian against Pakistan in World Cup cricket, “perhaps one of the biggest in my career”, but this was no dominant, eye-catching Kohli masterpiece. For another, he smiled more than he ever probably has on a cricket field.
Kohli is one of those figures on the cricket field that magnetically draws attention. But whether you love him or you hate him, you simply can’t ignore him. On the day, he was content to play second fiddle when needed, while keeping his end secure and the score ticking. There were some stunning strokes alright, primarily off the legpsin of Yasir Shah, but the entire package was even more stunning.
Mohammed Shami got India off to the perfect start with a screamer that got big on Younus from a length. Caught in no-man’s land, the ball lobbed off glove for Dhoni to hold a simple catch, India striking in the fourth over.
Ahmed Shehzad was overshadowed by Haris Sohail during a second-wicket stand of 68, but India’s bowlers weren’t panicking. The boundary balls were put in cold storage, and the batsmen found it impossible to impose themselves. R Ashwin, meanwhile, slipped into wonderful rhythm, drift and turn and bounce allowing him to get on and eventually evict Haris with a classical offspinner’s delivery that caught the edge on its way to slip.
Pakistan reached 100 with Shehzad in hit-and-miss mode and Misbah becalmed, when the action picked up. Umesh Yadav's first spell had read 3-0-23-0, but Dhoni, the master of the one-day game, brought him back for a second spell. In three deliveries, Yadav sent Shehzad and Sohaib Maqsood back; in the next over, Ravindra Jadeja had Akmal caught behind, a verdict India won on review. Pakistan had lost 3 for 1 in 9 balls. All but decisive.
Shahid Afridi kept Misbah company during a stand of 46 but then it was Shami’s turn to pick up two wickets in the same over, leaving the captain to do it all on his own. Misbah tried his best but 147 in the company of 9, 10 and Jack was a bridge too far. India kept its nerve even as Misbah kept hammering away; Shami rounded off a brilliant evening with an excellent over from round the stumps, forcing Misbah to pull to mid-on, and India was home and dry.
As a sweltering afternoon gradually made way for a pleasant evening, the early threat of Mohammad Irfan, the giant, had earlier been negated expertly by Rohit Sharma and Dhawan. Raina then cut loose with making a power-packed 74, and though Sohail Khan (5 for 55) triggered a slew of wickets towards the end as India lost 5 for 27 in the final 30 deliveries, the total was far from trifling.
Kohli was the glue that held the innings together and walked away with the accolades, but he could bat at his own pace only because Dhawan at the top and Raina towards the middle and later stages were outstanding. Dhawan, persisted with despite a run of poor form, repaid the team management’s faith with interest. Rohit fell after a reasonably brisk start to a predetermined pull that only lobbed to mid-off to give the enterprising Sohail a deserved wicket. In walked Kohli at No. 3 in the eighth over with 34 on the board.
Kohli managed to conquer the nerves that the big stage brings well, helped along by the controlled aggression of Dhawan, who didn’t put a foot wrong. Having warmed up by pulling Irfan well over the square-leg fence, Dhawan unleashed stunning strokes on both sides of the wicket, a rasping cut off Wahab Riaz that screamed over point and thudded into the boundary boards long before the bowler had completed his follow through easily the pick.
Pakistan needed a moment of inspiration to bring it back into the contest, and that came through the skipper. Kohli played Haris to midwicket, called Dhawan through, but Misbah, soon to be 41, moved with brisk alacrity and pinged the stumps down at the non-striker’s end to end a stand of 129, only the second 100-plus stand for India against Pakistan in World Cups.