India vs Australia Review: Kohli and Co. bring out their 'big boys' act

South Africa was lorded over at Southampton and the crucial Sunday clash against Australia at the Oval proved to be a one-way street once India’s batting might was amply reflected through its 352 for five.

India’s World Cup campaign has been a steady accumulation of incremental steps. It began with a loss to New Zealand in a warm-up fixture, then came the win over Bangladesh in the second practice-game and when the championship commenced, Virat Kohli’s men were ready with their big-boys act!

South Africa was lorded over at Southampton and the crucial Sunday clash against Australia at the Oval proved to be a one-way street once India’s batting might was amply reflected through its 352 for five. Still, it remains a long campaign and Kohli struck a cautionary note: “It’s too early to decide (about the semifinalists). After about six games we will be in a better position to know where we stand in the tournament, where we stand in the table, but we couldn't have asked for a better start against two strong sides.”

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Defeating a defending champion and that too Australia is never easy but India stepped in with confidence and had a perfect day. The runs were accumulated, steadily at the start and then with break-neck speed towards the end. And when Aaron Finch’s men buckled down to the chase, the Indian attack proved restrictive. The 36-run triumph may seem close but Australia was out of the contest in the last 10 overs.

Before the World Cup started, there were worries about Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan as they had failed in the warm-ups. But as Kohli pointed out, the openers are big-match players. Once the smell of a tough contest reached their nostrils, the two were back at their best. Rohit’s ton against South Africa and Dhawan’s ton at Australia’s expense were perfect building-blocks.

Scorecard | As it happened

Pandya comes good

A few months back there was ambiguity around who would turn up at number four. K.L. Rahul did enough in the game against South Africa to reiterate that the particular slot is his. In the tussle involving Australia, India had enough runs in its kitty and more overs to bat, and hence the team-management employed Hardik Pandya as a floater and promoted him to number four. He didn’t disappoint and used his licence to strike big with nonchalance.

The icing on the cake was about how Rahul shaped up at the death. Following the fine efforts of Dhawan, Rohit, Kohli, Pandya and M.S. Dhoni, he walked into the 50th over and immediately struck a six. For a traditional opener expected to display the classical virtue of patience, Rahul has been equally adept in hammering the bowling, especially in the shorter formats.  

If the batting was all about dominance, the bowling arm was equally in sync and India prospered. Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have struck a fine tandem and Hardik too chipped in as the third seamer. Spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav did reasonably well and going ahead, India will stride in with the knowledge of having most of its cogs in fine fettle.

Read: Alex Carey slams fastest half-century by an Australian in World Cup

Bowling in sync

But sport isn’t about sweat and success, it is also about empathy and appreciation. Kohli can be a brash competitor, but he also revealed that he has a heart. His act of requesting the Indian fans to stop booing Steve Smith will be remembered for long. “Just because there are so many Indian fans here, I just didn't want them to set a bad example. I told him, I am sorry on behalf of the crowd because I have seen that happen in a few earlier games, and in my opinion that's not acceptable,” the Indian captain said.

Smith and David Warner have had a rough time ever since they returned after a one-year ban following the ball-tampering crisis but they deserve a shot at redemption. Kohli has recognised that need and it is heartening.