World Cup 2019: Kohli, Dhoni fifties take India to 268

After opting to bat, M.S. Dhoni and Virat Kohli scored fifties as India set West Indies a target of 269 for win.

M.S. Dhoni and Virat Kohli put up a 40-run partnership after India lost early wickets.   -  AP Photo

Like the trams that slither through Manchester’s bylanes, India steadily progressed under warm skies. At a packed Old Trafford with its overwhelming presence of Indian fans and their snatches of Bollywood numbers, Virat Kohli’s men scored 268 for seven against the West Indies in a World Cup match here on Thursday.

The pitch was a bit slow, the outfield sluggish and the fast bowlers kept it tight except when they got carried away with their bouncers. But India battled hard and found its core yield from the blades of Kohli (72), M.S. Dhoni (56 n.o.), K.L. Rahul (48) and Hardik Pandya (46).

Earlier, after Kohli elected to bat, openers Rahul and Rohit Sharma were watchful against Sheldon Cottrell and Kemar Roach. Normal service seemingly resumed when Rohit cut Cottrell and pulled Roach. But when the speedster got one to nip back, there was ambiguity over whether the Mumbaikar had edged to wicket-keeper Shai Hope. Jason Holder sought a review and much to Rohit’s consternation, the West Indian skipper’s plea was validated and yet doubts lingered.

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Once Rohit departed, his partner Rahul buckled down and stitched a 69-run second-wicket partnership with Kohli. The alliance had its initial nerves especially with uppish flicks and some haphazard running but it all settled once fours were clattered off Oshane Thomas. Rahul preferred the straight path while Kohli was more flamboyant.

Later, Rahul too got adventurous and when left-arm spinner Fabian Allen stepped in, the opener and his captain clipped fours with finesse. It was all about the light touch yielding the maximum effect. There was bonhomie too when Chris Gayle effected a diving save and raised his arms in an exaggerated fashion and Kohli applauded his former mate from Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Just as Rahul neared his fifty, he played all over a Holder delivery that darted in. Next-man Vijay Shankar quickly essayed drives and glances but failed to factor in the late movement from Roach. There was a wobble in the middle-order as Kedar Jadhav too fell through a West Indian review that upheld Holder’s contention that the batsman had snicked Roach. Meanwhile, Kohli etched his fourth consecutive 50 and hopes rested on him and Dhoni.

The former skipper was guarded but when Thomas pitched short, the batsman cut fine. There was a reprieve too as Hope made a mess of a regulation stumping. On eight, Dhoni jumped out against Allen, the ball spun past the bat and the wicket-keeper failed to collect!

Dhoni and Kohli added 40 for the fifth wicket and the highlight was when Kohli on-drove his counterpart Holder, there was control and panache in that shot. However, immediately the premier willow-wielder committed to the swivel pull and the resultant lob found substitute Darren Bravo at short mid-wicket.

Struggling at 180 for five in 38.2 overs, India needed a second-wind and it wafted in through a 70-run sixth-wicket partnership between Dhoni and Pandya. The duo ran hard, smote a few enticingly into the air. Often the strikes either cleared the ropes or fell in no-man’s land. Holder, though, had to employ Carlos Brathwaite following a thumb injury that briefly benched Thomas. The grateful Indians tucked into Brathwaite while the last 10 overs cumulatively garnered 82 and the final five specifically bequeathed 49.  

Pandya and Mohammed Shami fell in succession at the death but Dhoni stood tall in the last over bowled by Thomas. A scoring sequence of 6, 0, 0, 4, 0, 6 helped India find a much-needed surge.