On a difficult surface with variable bounce, two batsmen who would, on recent evidence, go on a hunger strike if denied runs, fashioned a six-wicket win for India with a batting master class that took the pitch out of the equation. Along the way, they put their side up 1-0 in the three-match One-Day International series against West Indies on Thursday (November 21).
Virat Kohli looked in pristine touch from the moment he drove his second ball through the covers to the boundary, while Rohit Sharma continued his outstanding recent form with another substantial score. Though both fell before victory was achieved, they were the ones responsible for India winning in just 35.2 overs, racing to 212 for 4.
Kohli ended up with 86 off 84, falling when a century was there for the taking, while Rohit made 72 off 81, his last five innings in international cricket reading 79, 209, 177, 111 not out and this 72.
Their second-wicket stand of 133 in just 130 balls was the decisive one in a match in which the Indian bowlers, led by Suresh Raina (3/34) and Ravindra Jadeja (3/37) had done their job well to restrict West Indies to 211 all out in 48.5 overs at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium in Kochi.
Rohit survived a testing early phase, being squared up a couple of times and still feeling his way around the uncertain bounce. But from the moment a slog-sweep off Sunil Narine’s third ball resulted in Jason Holder not only failing to get to the ball but letting it go through to the boundary, Rohit took charge.
Narine had been brought on with India 57 for 1 in 10 overs, having lost Shikhar Dhawan to Ravi Rampaul in the fourth over, and given how well India’s slower bowlers had done in the first innings, Narine was expected to be the key for West Indies in its defence of a below-par total. But both Rohit and Kohli dealt with him, and the other bowlers, with supreme ease.
The pitch had been a treacherous monster until Rohit and Kohli got together, spitting up balls from a length at one time, sending some shooting almost along the ground at other times. But the obstacles seemed to fade when the two men batted. If the ball was pitched up, it was driven in an arc as wide as point to midwicket or flicked off the legs. If it was on a length, it was dealt with differently, and anything short or wide was put away. Both men used their feet and the depth of the crease, while the West Indies bowlers offered a generous helping of extras, sending down as many as 15 wides.
Rohit was finally dismissed when he pulled Rampaul straight to Lendl Simmons on the midwicket boundary, leaving India 150 for 2 in 25 overs. He was visibly unhappy with himself, a good indication of a recent insatiable appetite for runs.
When Kohli fell, India was 192 for 3 in the 32nd over, only 20 away from victory, but it had to endure a mini-wobble before the win was achieved. Yuvraj Singh, back at his No.4 spot, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni eventually got India home, much to the delight of a raucously happy, packed-to-bursting-point stadium in Kochi, which found good reason to fill the arena with a continuous stream of noise from throats and instruments, providing an entertaining, if noisy, background to the play.
That India had a below-par total to chase was down to how well the slower bowlers performed their roles. Raina bowled his full quota of overs on the way to his best ODI figures. He got Marlon Samuels with one that kept low and rattled the stumps, trapped Simmons in front, beating the bat with turn, and bowled Narsingh Deonarine with another one that kept low, to break the back of the West Indian middle order, negating a bright start.
Either side of Raina’s wickets, Jadeja bottled his end up after being given the ball in the 11th over and pulling off a stunning return catch while diving full length to his left, off Johnson Charles (42 off 34), to put the brakes on West Indies.
At the start of the match, West Indies was dealt a blow with possibly serious long-term consequences when Chris Gayle was stretchered off the field after being run out off the second ball of the match. Gayle had pushed the ball to short mid-off and taken off for a risky single when Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the bowler, ran forward, picked it up and threw the stumps down in one fluid motion. A half-lunge, half-dive by Gayle had him sprawled on the turf, having failed to make his ground and hurt his knee in the bargain. Gayle didn’t take the field when West Indies bowled.
Among the top-order batsmen, Darren Bravo alone showed the necessary skill and application to ride out the tough phases, but his innings of 59 was terminated when a Mohammed Shami length ball took out the stumps after keeping low.
It was a good innings, but in comparison to what came later, it was merely the appetiser to a succulent main course.