Virat Kohli is livid at his deep fielders who have allowed Shadab Khan to come back for the second run. The required run-rate is above 30, India are unbeaten in the tournament so far and are already almost certain of a spot in the semis. But this Bugatti has been stuck on full throttle with seemingly unlimited fuel for the past four years now.
Rohit Sharma shakes his bat in disgust.He has scooped a Hassan Ali delivery straight to fine-leg. The score was 234-2 and he was dismissed on 140 off just 113 deliveries but he knew he was just getting started, that the real storm was still to come. He has scored three double-centuries in ODIs, including a hardly believable 264. He could have scored a fourth.
After the match he says he was disappointed, not because of his double-century but because he could have killed the game off but didn’t. Kohli, arguably the greatest batsman of all time, was on the other end but Sharma wanted to kill it off himself. He averages 100 for all innings in which he crosses 35. Pakistan really could do with a batting coach like him, even if he did only suggest that in jest.
Pakistan’s openers are struggling to get any bat on ball. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has bowled a couple of beauties to Imam-ul-Haq, who seems to be a sitting duck. Then the pacer holds his hamstring and tries to stretch it gingerly. That doesn’t help and it’s clear that he has to leave. Vijay Shankar is given the ball to complete the over. He brings the ball back in when Bhuvneshwar had been making it go away. Imam falls too far over and is caught plumb in front of the stumps, the umpire raises his finger and the all-rounder has a wicket on his very first World Cup delivery. Kohli laughs in disbelief.
The ball thuds into Babar Azam’s pads. Kohli is ecstatic, he is certain they’ve gotten the big wicket—the one they really wanted. But the umpire remains unmoved and behind the stumps, MS Dhoni isn’t too sure either. He reckons it hit the bat first. The DRS counter slowly ticks down from 15 seconds. Both Kohli and Dhoni are confident—India’s past and present at a crossroads. Kohli relents. There is a look of bitter disappointment on his face but he trusts Dhoni. Why wouldn’t he?
Replays showed the skipper was right and Babar could have been out had Kohli gone for the review. MS Dhoni had made an error of judgement. He too is only human. But those who have seen him over the years can be forgiven for doubting it.
The trajectory on Kuldeep Yadav’s delivery is so delicious you could have it for dessert, but only if you’ve eaten your beans. It has flight and it has drift, and it almost seems to stop in midair. Then it pitches and in one horrible instance, Babar realises there is more magic within it. A gap appears between Babar’s bat and pad where there never had been one before and the ball turns through it like a heat-seeking missile. The slightest of inside edges and it hits timber. Babar, on his second life, is gone and so are all hopes of a Pakistan win. Yadav labels it a ‘dream delivery’ and says it was his best of the tournament. It might have been the best by any spinner so far in this edition.
Hardik Pandya sneers and looks towards Dhoni while pointing at Sarfaraz Ahmed in disbelief. ‘The nerve of this guy,’ he seems to be saying. The Pakistan skipper had the gall to walk down the track to him. Pandya replied with a snorting bouncer that rose menacingly. ‘Know your place,’ the bouncer and the reaction seemed to suggest. This is no longer Pandya the gentle medium pacer, this is a genuine pacer who demands respect. This is Kohli’s version of Pandya and you don’t dare disrespect Kohli’s version of anything. Sarfaraz stayed in his crease from then on in. He seemed more interested in the game when he was yawning behind the stumps in the first innings.
There is one final roar from the half-empty stands. The players have gone through the motions and it is finally over. Pakistan, India’s eternal arch-rivals, have been brushed aside in a game that was played with a refreshing amount of amicability despite the political tensions between the two countries.
England may have the number one ranking, the better batting side and home advantage and Australia may have the pedigree and a better new ball duo, but it is India that are the team to beat in this World Cup.
In Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar, Yuzvendra Chahal and Yadav, they have one of the finest bowling attacks in the world. In Ravindra Jadeja, Shankar and Pandya, they have a trio of all-rounders that can provide depth, variety and athleticism. And their batting unit? Well it might just be India’s finest at a World Cup.
Add to that their fielding, the calmness of Dhoni and the hunger of Kohli, along with the confidence and experience that the Indian Premier League has provided these men and there seems to be no weakness at all in this juggernaut.
India have lost only two World Cup games this entire decade. Any team will do well to make it three.