The skies turn dark early in Eastern India but even in this inky blackness, Virat Kohli shone like the sun, staying even more incandescent than the floodlights. Kohli’s record-equalling 49th ODI ton (101 n.o., 121b, 10x4), that helped him draw level with his idol Sachin Tendulkar, set the base for India’s 326 for five, a total that proved way beyond South Africa’s grasp in the World Cup game at a boisterous Eden Gardens here on Sunday.
Kohli’s support cast included batter Shreyas Iyer (77) and a relentless bowling attack that stifled the rivals. South Africa finished with 83 in 27.1 overs and the Men in Blue won by 243 runs. The pursuit hinged a lot on Quinton de Kock but the southpaw slashed a Mohammed Siraj delivery onto his stumps in the second over. Skipper Temba Bavuma tried to hang around but the noose tightened when Ravindra Jadeja spun one into his timber. Mohammed Shami then steamed in and gained an edge from Aiden Markram.
Later Jadeja won a successful review against Heinrich Klaasen and the pavilion-bound procession had a steady rhythm as Shami trapped Rassie van der Dussen right in front. At 40 for five, the visitors were in a shambles, a state that never changed as India, especially Jadeja (five for 33), kept prising out wickets.
In the afternoon, fans, wearing their blue jerseys with either Virat or Rohit inscribed on them, trooped into the bustling venue. Rohit Sharma won the toss, elected to bat, and dished out a quickfire 24-ball 40. Lungi Ngidi was drilled past covers and hoisted for sixes, a nervous Marco Jansen, saddled with wides, was pulled, and just as it seemed that Rohit was set for a big one, he succumbed to Kagiso Rabada.
Birthday boy Kohli walked in as applause rippled through the packed stands. Meanwhile, Shubman Gill lofted Jansen for six. But Gill was beaten all ends up by a Keshav Maharaj special that pinged the batter to the crease and disturbed the stumps. India had the impetus at 93 for two in 10.3 overs, and it was left to Kohli and Shreyas to strike roots.
Kohli drove and whipped while the South African quicks tested Shreyas with some short-pitched deliveries. The scoring rate dipped as spinners Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi kept it tight and the fielders responded with alacrity. Gradually in their alliance Kohli and Shreyas got their respective fifties and the latter tucked into an erratic Jansen before hoisting Aiden Markram.
The 134-run third-wicket partnership terminated once Shreyas fell to Ngidi and K.L. Rahul departed while trying to hasten the run-rate. Suryakumar Yadav then lent urgency, slog-sweeping Shamsi while Kohli muscled against Jansen. Even after Suryakumar lobbed a reverse-sweep and perished, Kohli remained the steady anchor and his special hundred was registered with a single off Rabada. There was relief and a half-smile before he raised his bat. Soon his partner Jadeja smote a six off Ngidi as India finished with a total that left the rivals gasping.