India's batting, over the last few years, has depended on one of their top three - Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli - coming good. What happens when all three do? 352 for 5. On Sunday, at the Oval, Australia faced the brunt of a comprehensive performance by India's top order, with a bit of Hardik Pandya and MS Dhoni onslaught that powered them to the highest total by any side against Australia in World Cups.
India stuck to a template with their batting, the one which has got them success in one-dayers in recent years. A slow but steady start, and gradual acceleration - based on conventional stroke-making, one that would have had acceptance even in the previous decade. The approach is far from what modern cricket thrives on, and even further away from what England have exhibited en route their dominance but it is a tried-and-tested pattern. Shikhar Dhawan was slow and Rohit Sharma slower as they allowed Australia's new-ball pair of Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc to bowl ample dot deliveries in the first powerplay.
On a pitch that had little assistance for the bowlers, Australia relied on their pace and the bounce generated by Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile to pose whatever little challenge there was for the batters. But that proved too little as the Indian openers cashed in on their stay at the wicket, and made up for a slow start - 22 in 7 overs - once Coulter-Nile was introduced into the attack in the 8th over. Dhawan drove and cut him for three consecutive boundaries to give India's innings a move on.
Much unlike his opening partner, Rohit's attack was far more reserved. Till the 16th over, he had stroked only three boundaries. He had his share of luck in this match as well, when Coulter-Nile put down a half-chance in the second over itself. It was that sort of a day, when India found the mercies of Australia's fielding being below their set standards. There were misfields, and a few other dropped catches. Rohit remained cautious at deliveries outside of the offstump thereafter but he managed a 70-ball 57, playing the second fiddle in a 127-run opening stand.
Even as Dhawan continued the exhibition of his free-flowing strokes, remaining the assertive partner in both his stands, Kohli struggled through the initial phase of his stay, with the ball outside the offstump causing a bit of trouble. Much like the openers, the Indian skipper also couldn't impose himself on the Australian bowlers early; he restored to just turning the strike over till the southpaw himself toned down close to his century. There was even a moment of scare when Dhawan called for a quick single after hitting the ball to mid on, while batting on 99, and then decided against it. Kohli was charging down and had to quickly get back.
Once Dhawan notched up his 17th ODI century, and third at the venue, in a quintessential fashion he started his swinging his bat around for quick runs and fell after adding only 17 more to that score. However, with a good base set at that point - 220 for 2 in 37 overs - Hardik Pandya was promoted for some quick runs. The big-hitting all-rounder too rode his share of luck after he survived a golden duck when Alex Carey failed to pouch a regulation thick edge.
His assault, more than quick runs, put the Australian bowlers off their lines and lengths, the benefit of which passed on even to Kohli, who only in the 66th ball of his innings managed to take his scoring rate over run-a-ball with a whip. That shot was an 88-metre six off Starc, who missed his yorker by only a few inches. Even Cummins, who was the most impressive of Australian pacers, was hammered for 17 off 7 balls by Pandya in his last spell, before getting dismissed for a 27-ball 48.
MS Dhoni played his part with a 27-run cameo as well. Kohli, however, remained off strike for most parts of the death overs and in doing so missed out on another possible century. Both of them fell in the last over, bowled by Marcus Stoinis, but that had little impact as India added 116 runs in the last 10 overs.
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