The atmosphere was electric at Adelaide Oval, and so was India’s cricket. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men finally produced a performance that was worthy of their status of being the defending champions of the tournament as they beat traditional rivals Pakistan by 76 runs in their opening match of the 2015 World Cup.
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The team, without a victory in almost three months of being in Australia barring against Afghanistan in a practice match, turned it on at the most opportune moment yesterday.
Things went right for India from the moment Dhoni won the toss and elected to bat first. India reached exactly 300 in their 50 overs, thanks to brilliant efforts from Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Shikhar Dhawan
And when they returned to the field, the bowlers kept taking wickets at regular intervals, some of them results of sharp fielding. Pakistan were bowled out for 224 at the end of 47 overs.
When India finished on 300, they would have felt at least 25 runs short, especially as Pakistan bowlers Sohail Khan and Wahab Riaz did very well in the last five overs by taking five wickets for just 27 runs.
Kohli (107 in 126 balls), with his 22nd ODI century in what is shaping into a remarkable career, and Dhawan (73 in 76b) provided solidity at the top, before Raina (74 in 56b, 5×4, 3×6) gave them the necessary power to propel towards 300, which seems to be the par score in this World Cup.
Sohail Khan, who was playing his first ODI match for Pakistan since September 2011, made the breakthrough for Pakistan in the eighth over when Rohit Sharma (15, 20b) decided to play a premeditated pull shot and only managed to top-edge it for captain Misbah-ul Haq to take an easy catch at mid-off.
That brought in Kohli, and he played a trademark inning. He may have received a life on 76, when wicket-keeper Umar Akmal dropped a regulation catch off part-time spinner Haris Sohail, but he played the ball around and kept rotating the strike with Dhawan, who seemed to be settling down nicely after some initial issues with Mohammad Irfan’s rising deliveries.
The duo added 129 runs for the second wicket, before Dhawan’s vigil came to an end when he was run out trying to steal an impossible single. The call was Kohli’s and it did deprive the Delhi batsman a chance to get to a much-deserved hundred, but the long and confident stay would do him a world of good.
The run out happened in the 30th over, which was the perfect time for Raina to come in and assert his authority on the proceedings.
Raina’s first six came with a little help from Yasir Shah in the deep, when he pulled a Sohail delivery to deep mid-wicket and the fielder, going for a spectacular dive, only managed to flick it over the boundary. The Indian made good use of the Powerplay overs, and was aggressive even otherwise.
Sohail took two wickets in two balls in his final over, and was the most successful bowler with figures of 5-55.
In reply, Pakistan lost makeshift opener and their most experienced batsman Younis Khan through a brilliant short-pitch delivery from Mohammad Shami early on in the innings, but a second-wicket partnership between the in-form Ahmed Shehzad (47 in 73 balls) and Haris Sohail (36 in 48 balls) kept them in the mix.
Some disciplined bowling by a largely inexperienced bowling, backed up by sharp effort in the field that led to several spectacular catches, broke the back of Pakistan’s batting.
The decisive phase of the match was when they lost three quick wickets for the addition of one run in eight balls. It started with the dangerous looking Shehzad square cutting Umesh Yadav straight to Ravindra Jadeja at point, who took the catch in the second attempt. Two balls later, Raina took a smart catch to dismiss Shoaib Maqsood (0) of the same bowler. And Akmal (0) snicked Jadeja to Dhoni
Two wickets in the 35th over off Shami was the last straw. He first got rid of Pakistan’s perennial dangerman, Shahid Afridi, when the batsman top-edged an intended square cut high and Kohli ran almost 15 yards with his back to the ball and took a well-judged catch near point. Two balls later, Wahab Riaz’s kamikaze approach did not pay dividend, and Dhoni took an impressive catch diving to his right.
Misbah-ul Haq top-scored for Pakistan with a 76 (84b), while Shami was the most successful bowler for India, taking 4-35 in nine overs.
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