Strap yourselves in and hold fast to your seats because it’s going to be a wild ride.
India will meet Pakistan in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 final, a dream match-up that few could have expected when the two sides met to kick off their campaigns.
With India stomping over Bangladesh in a nine-wicket win in the second semi-final on Thursday, that match-up of rivals has become reality. This was to be Bangladesh’s biggest match in its history, and the team was keyed up for it. Perhaps a little too keyed up, as it squandered a strong batting position. Then the combine of Rohit Sharma (123 not out off 129) and Virat Kohli (96 not out off 78) showed that no matter what it would have got, it might not have been enough.
The two put on a batting exhibition in an unbeaten 178-run stand that took up only 25.3 overs. The end result was India coasting past Bangladesh’s 264 for 7 in just 40.1 overs.
India’s bowlers had done well to keep Bangladesh in check, with Kedar Jadhav emerging as an unlikely bowling hero alongside the established duo of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah. Each of them took a brace of wickets, stymieing Bangladesh at key moments. And then it was the turn of the batsmen to take over.
Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit began the chase perfectly, not allowing the bowlers even a sniff of a chance. A few early wickets might have got some zip among Bangladesh’s bowlers, but Dhawan powered through and Rohit caressed it as the openers rattled along at pace. The result was that Bangladesh’s shoulders began to droop. The bowling, not very on-target to begin with, became even more directionless with the slightest error in length or room punished.
Rohit had the majority of the strike, but Dhawan was the more electric. As is his wont, Dhawan was particularly strong square of the wicket, not afraid to take the aerial route. His rich vein of form was to the fore, the timing leaving the fielders standing. He looked in complete command when a moment of indiscretion cost him, stepping out to Mashrafe Mortaza but only squirting a leading edge to point for 46 off 34 balls. The openers had put on 87 in just 14.4 overs, but if Bangladesh thought the wicket of the man who was hitting boundaries at will would bring respite, it was sadly mistaken.
Kohli got into his stride immediately, and Dhawan’s departure merely meant Rohit moved smoothly up a gear. Bangladesh tried six bowlers, it tried defensive fields, and it tried bowling dry. Against two men in imperious form, nothing mattered. Kohli dominated the bowling, almost toying with it, making 11 men look ridiculously inadequate to man a cricket field. Rohit had a strike-rate of 95.34 and looked unhurried, stroking and helping the ball to the boundary more than powering it.
Rohit’s 11th ODI century came with a hooked six off Mustafizur Rahman in the 33rd over. Kohli, meanwhile, reached a landmark of his own in getting to 8,000 ODI runs in just his 175th innings, a new world record that bettered AB de Villiers’s mark of 182. That Kohli didn’t end up with yet another century in a chase was just down to India having too few to chase, thanks to the task the bowlers had done.
Bhuvneshwar had given India the perfect start by snaring Soumya Sarkar in the first over, and then setting up Sabbir Rahman in the seventh to leave Bangladesh 31 for 2. Sabbir had begun with a flurry of fours off both Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah. But both bowlers cut down on the loose stuff and Bhuvneshwar mixed up his lengths nicely, before suckering Sabbir into an airy drive at a slower one that went straight to Ravindra Jadeja at point. Sabbir had thrown it away after looking good, but the experienced pair of Tamim Iqbal (70 off 82) and Mushfiqur Rahim (61 off 85) wasn’t about to do the same.
They got together with the run-rate having plateaued, thanks to two consecutive maidens, took some time to take stock and pounced when the opportunity came. Hardik Pandya was handed the ball for the 13th over, and not only did he overstep twice, one of the no-balls cost him the wicket of Tamim, who had played on and could have been out for 17. The over fetched 14 runs and was the cue for both batsmen to start stroking the ball more freely.
Bangladesh seemed on course for a massive total when the two were batting. That was when Kohli turned to Jadhav’s part-time off-spin. Denied pace off the ball, both Tamim and Rahim couldn’t rattle along. Had they perhaps weathered the lower run-scoring pace, they would have doubtless found avenues to accelerate again later. But betraying an impatience that Bangladesh has still not mastered, Tamim tried to go for a big slow-sweep, only to miss the ball altogether and see it hit the stumps.
Jadhav’s golden arm had broken a dangerous stand of 123 that took just 127 balls. That brought on the squeeze by India’s bowlers, with Jadhav and Jadeja operating in tandem. Once again, Bangladesh didn’t show the patience to ride out the rough periods, looking to hit its way out of a quiet spot but paying the price. Shakib Al Hasan was caught behind, MS Dhoni making another fast-reaction take look effortless, and in the next over, Jadhav had his second wicket when Rahim skipped down to slog-sweep straight to Kohli, who had taken a few steps to his left anticipating the ball when he saw Rahim shape up.
Suddenly, Bangladesh had gone from 159 for 2 in the 28th over to 184 for 5 in the 36th, and its ambitions of a big total had to be scaled down.
Mortaza swung his bat around, and had no fewer than three boundaries coming off edges, but he rode his luck to end with 30 not out off 25. It did spoil the figures of Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar, who bowled with great control to nail their yorkers and bouncers, but saw boundaries flying off outside edges and top edges behind the keeper.
In the end, those extra runs merely meant Kohli got the chance to complete one landmark. And for India to set up what will doubtless be called the mother of all finals.