Could there have been a better start for India’s World Cup campaign? Even a win in any other fashion would not have matched the sheer tempo of Sunday’s pre-Diwali firecracker. The Melbourne Cricket Ground was packed to the rafters with more than 90,000 fans cheering for Pakistan and India alike. The match went down to the wires. The last six balls saw the game change directions as many times with two wickets, two wides, and a no-ball. In the end, India secured a thriller victory by four wickets over Pakistan.
Earlier, India’s captain Rohit Sharma won the toss to sending India’s arch-rivals to bat first. Arshdeep Singh and Bhuvneshwar (Bhuvi) Kumar did well to take full advantage of the pitch conditions. While Bhuvi choked up the run flow early on, Singh scalped the dangerous Babar Azam in his very first ball. Pakistan’s Shan Masood and Iftikhar Ahmed did put up a fight with a half-century each, but the Indian bowlers kept taking crucial wickets at regular intervals, stymieing the run rate and preventing any big partnership to flourish. Ahmed, who seemed dangerous as he dispatched the balls for four sixes and two fours, was caught on the pads by Mohammad Shami in the twelfth over. Masood continued till the end remaining unbeaten at 52, with five 4s.
In response, the Indian batting order was shaken up early on by Naseem Shah, Haris Rauf, and yet another scuffle between the wickets manufactured by Virat Kohli. India was down four wickets within six overs and a single ball. It had lost both its openers and the in-form Suryakumar Yadav. Kohli, however, had chosen this day to shine back at his critics. Steadying the ship with a timely 40 from Hardik Pandya, Kohli through 4 sixes and 6 fours, to score a match-winning 82 from 53 balls. By the time the 19th over was done, he had swung back the match squarely in India’s favour with only 16 runs to win from the last six balls. The starkness of his acceleration is evident in the fact that Kohli scored his first 20 balls yielded 11 runs while the next 33 balls scored 71 runs.
But it was the last over that stole the show.
Pandya was the first casualty as he lopped one to Babar Azam at covers on the first ball. This was followed by a single from the incoming Dinesh Karthik, and a double by Kohli. On the fourth delivery, as Kohli pulled a full-toss over deep square leg for a maximum, the umpire signalled a no-ball. Azam wasn’t happy and went on to have a long chat with the umpires. But the ball was judged above regulation height and a free-hit was rewarded. This was a wide, and the free hit continued with Kohli and Karthik running for quick 3 runs. With 2 runs needed in 2 balls, Karthik was stumped in the next delivery. Just as it seemed that another tie was equally possible with 2 runs required from the last ball, Mohammad Nawaz served yet another wide to the new player on the crease, R Ashwin. Scores leveled, the experienced tailender lofted the last one over mid-off, sealing the victory with a single.
As an emotional Kohli left the MCG grounds, surrounded by his jubilant teammates, there was no doubt about who the engineer of India’s near-miraculous victory was. This was the first match in group two, placing India at the top of the table in the group with 2 points and a net run rate of +.050.
Earlier in the day, in Hobart, Sri Lanka had restricted Ireland to 128, before chasing the total down within 15 overs and with the loss of just one wicket. The Sri Lankan innings were marked by a fiery 68 in 43 balls by Kusal Mendis, who hit 5 fours and 3 sixes. He was supported by two identical innings by Dhananjaya de Silva and Charith Asalanka, both of whom scored 31 runs with 2 fours a piece. De Silva also slammed a six. Ireland’s highest scorers were opener Paul Stirling (34 from 25, 4 fours and 1 six), and middle-order batter Harry Tector (45 from 42, with 2 fours and 1 six).
With the Sri Lanka-Ireland tie, New Zealand and Lanka lead Group 1 followed by England, with all three registering a win in their first matches. Afghanistan, Ireland, and Australia are yet to open their books. In Group 2, India and Bangladesh lead the points table with the latter trouncing Netherlands by 9 runs in the first match today. South Africa will play Zimbabwe later today in the third match of the group.
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