Sporting campaign-openers can be tricky affairs. The pressure of expectations, the dive into the unknown and the urgency to set a domineering tone can together affect the best-laid plans. In the latest World Cup, defending champion England learnt it the hard way against New Zealand. Seen in that light, India did well in its first game.
Sunday’s fixture against Australia, at Chennai’s M.A. Chidambaram Stadium, may have eventually looked like a walk in the park but this was a tussle with enough tipping points that could have tilted the game either way. What distinguished the victor from the vanquished was the ability to hold the nerve and India did that twice to eventually register a six-wicket victory.
The initial worry was when David Warner and Steve Smith seemed unruffled during their second-wicket alliance. However, India spun a web with R. Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja stepping up and delivering. The trio bowled 30 overs, conceded 104 runs, but most importantly scalped six wickets with Jadeja’s three for 28 doing the star-turn. From being 100 for two at one stage, the visitors slumped to 199 all out.
The second revival was in the realm of batting. Chasing small totals often slip between the two poles of over-confidence and a sudden bout of nerves. Complacence seemed evident in the manner in which Ishan Kishan and Shreyas Iyer departed while Josh Hazlewood earned skipper Rohit Sharma’s wicket. At two for three in two overs, India had the worst possible start.
The good news was that one of the greatest batters, especially when it comes to chases in white-ball cricket, was at the crease. Virat Kohli is the kind who can work around the most difficult pursuits, be it related to inflationary asking rates or a crisis linked to batting collapses. The legacy has always been there barring a dip in form over a few seasons. He played the rescuer and enforcer yet again and, in tandem with K.L. Rahul, ensured that India was back on the winning path.
Kohli’s 85 and Rahul’s unbeaten 97 and their 165-run fourth-wicket partnership ensured that the Men in Blue had the last word, a triumphant one at that. A middle-order that papered the cracks augurs well as India readies for the immediate battles against Afghanistan at Delhi, and Pakistan at Ahmedabad.
Still there are some concerns. In the pace department, Hardik Pandya went for runs and considering that he has forced an either pick Mohammed Siraj or Mohammed Shami choice within the management while Jasprit Bumrah remains the spearhead, the all-rounder needs to get some tight incisive overs in.
Hardik is central to the team’s balance besides allowing Rohit the luxury of fielding three spinners. Hardik the batter though was in his element, adding panache while India closed in on the target.
In the days ahead, India’s weak tail, the odd form or fitness concern may crop up, but for now it is time to lean on that aphorism: well begun is half done.