Shikhar ton, Bumrah-Bhuvi 3-each fold up Oz with 36-run win
First came the great Indian splurge and then the greater Indian squeeze. In between, there was sunshine, a century, supporting fifties, promotions and a delightfully solid total which took the team home against the Australians. The defending champions were down under a 36-run defeat, folding up at 316, giving India not just two valuable points but a huge mental edge in the competition.
It was, indeed, an impressive squaring up of The Oval by the Men in Blue with Man of the Match Shikhar Dhawan resuming his love affair on English pitches with a well-earned century (117 in 109 balls) and an all-format Jaspreet Bumrah sporting insanely economical figures of 3 for 61 in his death over spell. Not far behind was Bhuvneshwar who snatched an equal number while spinners Chahal and Yadav kept up the limiting play plan to see through the middle overs without any veritable challenge by the Aussies.
It was a complete display in all departments with the second innings proceedings starting with a run-out orchestrated by Jadhav at deep point, off Pandya, sending back skipper Finch after the dead pitch was turning in a dead game for the bowlers.
Even an uncharacteristically watchful David Warner who recorded 50 dots balls in his 84-ball 56 could not get the momentum going and finally vanished into the dressing room just when the sun was out and Chahal lured him into lofting to deep midwicket only to be caught by a waiting Bhuvneshwar Singh. A run-a-ball “best batsman in the world in all formats” Steve Smith, despite all the angry talk with himself, could not save the team from what looked inevitably a lost cause.
Not that the Aussies did not battle but getting to 352 when Bumrah was firing death at death and Bhuvneshwar took two valuable wickets of Steve Smith (on an lbw review) Stoinis (and clipping off the stumps off) in the same over. There was nothing much the Aussies could do except palpitate about the swelling run rate on the board. Bhuvi’s beautiful off cutter did Cummins in as Chahal got a daring Glen Maxwell on a slog shot. The hope that Maxwell brought in was as short-lived as the Alex Carey controversy earlier in the day when his hand warmers, allowed under ICC rules, came into sharp discussion around ball handling.
All boxes ticked, India now go into Notts territory to meet the tournament’s X-men in New Zealand. If the show goes on as it has so far, India will be solid contenders for the semi-finals. Maturity, strategy and serious intent has decked up Kohli’s dressing room thus far, making it a high IQ team of youngsters on a sound battle cry, and as it turns out, without the Army insignia egging exhorting them from their veteran wicket-keeper’s gloves.
It is a role written and enacted with flesh given to all. Bumrah as the bewildering asphyxiator, Chahal as the restrictive guile, Kuldeep and Bhuvneshwar as back-up men, Rohit, Shikhar and Virat as master blade-runners and Pandya as the turbo fuel in the journey, not to mention Dhoni as the veteran cameo man – the it is a perfect play on the big stage.
With 352 for 5 on a pitch all set to slow down, it was always an uphill task for even the mighty Australians. After Kohli won the toss and elected to bat in what he called a no-brainer decision, the Indians paced their innings with mature caution and careful interpretation of the bowling. All of Mitchel Starc, Pat Cummins, Coulter-Nile, Glenn Maxwell and Zampa failed to breach the Indian armoury till much after India reached 127 and Rohit Sharma decided to have a mis-timed go at Coulter-Nile’s outside off-stump full length riser , getting a scooped up outside edge into the hands of Carey. He was then 57 with a strike rate of 81 plus.
The sun, however, brought in many winners for Team India as Shikhar Dhawan got the stage to bat out his sustained bad patch in the middle. A well-scripted century was one result with Dhawan enjoying his rediscovered love affair with the bat, playing up to a handsome 117 before being caught by a sub at deep mid-wicket, giving the Aussies reason to pat Starc’s back at long last.
Dhawan, the big-ticket performer has had particularly good ICC tournaments, more so on English soil and when he is challenged by the Aussies. His century, 17th in ODIs, was punctuated with thought, style and balance, not to mention 13 fours and 2 sixes, after he quickly got over jitters against Starc and Cummins to put on board a show-stopper ton applauded by the sea of blue in the stands with hardly any yellow dotting the seats.
He took 109 deliveries to get to the three-figure feat and 53 to his half-century as Sharma shielded him ably through his vulnerable patch which lasted through the first spells of Starc and Cummins. He eased out once Coulter-Nile, Maxwell and Zampa followed and started to look dominating and comfortable hence forth. His first boundary through cover off Cummins came in the fourth over when he was still trying to cement his stand on the pitch. Early in his innings, Dhawan was rapped on the gloves and called for mid-field treatment after which he settled in for a long story everyone would tell in times to come.
As Dhawan helmed the show, Sharma quietly reached his 50, giving way to Virat Kohli after a centurion opening partnership set the tone in the middle. In an all-round display, Kohli added 82 after initial quietude and Hardik Pandya, promoted to No 4 over K L Rahul, a scintillating 27-ball 48, abetting the toss advantage.
The feared Australian pace battery did not find much menace or movement on a dry and tested pitch. The full-lengthers punctuated by the short stuff did little to needle the Indians. The unimpressive figures (Cummins 10-55-1; Starc: 10-74-1; Coulter-Nile: 10-1-63-1; Glen Maxwell 7-45-0; Zampa: 6-50-0 and Stoinis 7-62-2) warned the Indian arm department of the incoming difficulties, even if the pitch would slow down a bit here and there.
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