Six in a row

Opting to bat first on winning the toss, India ran up a sizable 300 for seven. Pakistan, in response, crumbled to 224 all out. This game was built up as a battle between Indian batting and Pakistani bowling. If that was what it was, India won it hands down. By Shreedutta Chidananda.

India put a disjointed Pakistan to the sword at the Adelaide Oval, opening its World Cup campaign with a stirring 76-run victory. Opting to bat first on winning the toss, India ran up a sizable 300 for seven. Pakistan, in response, crumbled to 224 all out. This game was built up as a battle between Indian batting and Pakistani bowling. If that was what it was, India won it hands down.

Virat Kohli slammed his 22nd One-Day hundred, while Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina made handsome contributions. The most impressive aspect of the Indian innings was the manner in which Kohli and Dhawan constructed their stand. They knocked the ball into the gaps, ran hard and never let the scoreboard stagnate.

“After we lost Rohit, the partnership between Virat and Shikhar was really crucial because the ball was doing a bit,” M. S. Dhoni said later. “It was not an easy wicket and there was variable bounce. According to the demand and the wicket, you have to alter your game and Virat did that. Even Shikhar is normally aggressive but today he was rotating the strike. They batted really well when Shahid Afridi and the other spinner (Yasir Shah) came on. If you rotate well with the least risk, you get a good platform.”

Coming into the game with an average of 9.4 from his six previous innings (including warm-up matches), Kohli had a big question mark over his form. He was reprieved on three, when Yasir Shah ought to have done better to take a seemingly difficult catch at deep midwicket. But he did not let that affect his confidence. Had that catch been taken, the game could have gone in a very different direction.

As it was, Kohli and Dhawan added 129 for the second wicket, which set things up nicely for Raina. The ebullient left-hander cracked a 56-ball-74 to put India on the road to a big total.

“The pitch was very good but still the way Shikhar and Virat played without taking risks, rotated and struck boundaries — because of that, the entire game went India’s way, the way they built their stand,” Misbah-ul-Haq rued later. “We simply did not take enough wickets.”

The game did not go perfectly for India, though. The batting Power Play yielded only 25 runs, Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Irfan bowling well, while Kohli's dismissal triggered a collapse of five for 27 in the last 4.5 overs, Sohail Khan claiming four of those wickets. Dhoni failed with the bat again, when India was looking to him to carry it to 320 perhaps.

That didn’t come to matter, though. Pakistan looked out of sorts from the very beginning. The absence of Mohammad Hafeez meant Pakistan needed a new opener. The replacement in the squad, Nasir Jamshed, was not deemed good enough and instead it was the veteran Younis Khan who opened. He was consumed by an excellent short ball from Mohammed Shami, who creditably finished with four wickets.

Younis was promoted so that Pakistan could accommodate an extra bowler in Shah. This move clearly did not pay off, as the leg spinner went wicket-less for 60 runs from his eight overs. “Let’s see,” Misbah said, when asked if this arrangement would continue. “Actually with these restrictions in the field now, we are not actually getting the balance right because you need a fifth bowler, so that's why sometimes you have to just sacrifice another batsman. Let’s see in the coming games. We’ll just think about that.”

Ahmed Shehzad batted himself into a rut, and was dismissed trying to hit out. Only Misbah made a typically valiant 76 but it was little consolation.

India will be pleased with the performance of its bowling unit, heavily maligned for its recent ineptitude in Australia. R. Ashwin took the crucial wicket of Haris Sohail, when his stand with Shehzad was beginning to look threatening. His looping, drifting deliveries were a welcome sight.

Umesh Yadav, erratic with the new ball and thus taken off, came back to remove two Pakistani batsmen in the space of three balls. That broke the spine of the batting line-up.

“I think winning was important to start off, because we have not won a lot of games, and Afghanistan was the only one game that we had won,” a relieved Dhoni said later. “Once you start thinking about all these things, you get caught up with a lot of thoughts, so what was important was to not think about the past. It’s something that we will keep getting flashes, but it was important not to get entangled with these thoughts, think more about the process, what needs to be done, but ultimately what will really matter is the present. At times what we have seen is you have pressure of expectation and the burden of your own performance that you want to do. So all of that really plays a part, but I felt the guys did really well because a World Cup opening game against Pakistan, it is a high-stake game, but at the same time we don’t want to give it too much of an importance because irrespective of whether you're playing Pakistan or Australia, the games are important. You get the same number of points. Your run rate, depending on the margin you win, it’s the same. I feel we tried to keep it as normal as possible, and to a lot of extent we were able to do that.”