The drop: King Kohli punishes Marsh’s grassed catch as India take World Cup clash
The crowd knew it; they gasped. If – when – the catch was taken, it would leave India, already reeling from a trio of top-order ducks, 4/20 in what would surely then be a vain pursuit of Australia’s admittedly modest 199. Its batting order this night was not as dependably deep as in recent years.
Virat Kohli was given a life after Mitchell Marsh’s poor attempt at a catch.
But wicketkeeper Alex Carey and square leg Mitch Marsh, sprinting towards each other, had no time to establish right of way and a sliding Marsh dropped the catch. In the compounding way of these things, both had earlier made ducks on personally miserable nights.
Hazlewood blamed no one. “I think it was Mitch’s catch and Carey got quite close in the end and might have just put Mitch off,” he said. “It’s a dropped catch, one of those things that happened.”
It’s not empirically demonstrable, of course, that this was the match in a moment. Hazlewood pooh-poohed the idea.
“It was quite early,” he said. “We still felt that new ball – it was doing enough, whether it was in the air or off the wicket, (and) we knew that spin was going to be tough to play. Maybe not as tough as during the day. We certainly felt in the game for quite a while until the partnership grew and grew. They sort of batted us out of it.”
Indeed, the reprieved Kohli was as mistake-free as only he can be and KL Rahul as he fell in alongside Kohli was nearly as flawless. Kohli eventually fell for a textbook 85 when he smashed Hazlewood to mid-wicket. It was no less than Hazlewood, the best of the Australian bowlers deserved.
But by then, Kohli and Rahul had added 165 and paced their country to the threshold of a four-wicket victory.
Rahul finished the match by handsomely driving Australian captain Pat Cummins over long off for six to strand himself on 97 not out, whereupon non-striker Hardik Pandya shook his head at the bittersweetness of it all.
In the dewy monsoonal night, Australia’s makeshift spin pair Adam Zampa and Glenn Maxwell were unable to replicate the mesmerising mastery of India’s trio spinners in the afternoon. Moreover, the Indian bowlers as a team – their quicks merit honourable mentions here, too – had so restrained Australia that the batsmen in their turn could make haste slowly, and did.
It made for a peculiarly downbeat game for these best of rivals, paling beside the pyrotechnics of the first three days. Australia’s 199 was fewer than South Africa had made in their last 20 overs against Sri Lanka in Delhi the night before. Admittedly, this was apples and pears – Sri Lanka’s attack was feeble – but this World Cup appears to be there for the bold to take. South Africa are Australia’s next opponent.
The crowd figure was of a piece with the action. At 32,351, it was well short of the stadium’s 40,000 capacity. Not yet in the tournament has a stadium been full, though notionally every match has sold out. Cricket might be a religion in this country, but it belongs to an exclusive brethren. But there’s no mystery; it’s down to chronic disorganisation.
Other than that 12-ball, three-wicket counterpunch at the top of India’s innings, this was a largely forgettable opening sally for Australia, in which their recent shortcomings were again exposed: inability to accelerate with the bat and lack of penetration in spin bowling. Hazlewood refuted the idea that the spin department was lacking, saying he regarded Maxwell in India as a frontliner, but conditions had militated against rather than for them this day.
Australia, drawing on previous experience, had batted first in the expectation that the pitch would die and batting would become harder as the day wore on, but instead found that was at its most challenging in the afternoon sun. “It was as extreme as it gets,” he said. “It was probably a good examination to get first up, against the best spinners in the tournament. Hopefully, it’ll get a bit easier from hereon in.”
From the early loss of Marsh, Australia always felt a wicket over budget. With verifiable batting only to No.7, they did not have the luxury of a wicket to throw away in the cause of a momentum-shifting blast as the Indian spinners wove their characteristic web around Australia.
David Warner, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne all toiled in vain to force the pace. When the squeeze became too much, Australia lost 5/30. Smith alone could be said to have been dismissed by an unplayable ball, a Ravindra Jadeja jaffa, straightening past his outside to bowl him. The Indian tweakers are a true ensemble too, each a virtuoso in a different key of their craft. In their collective 30 overs, they took 6-94.
If anything, the Australians’ line-up was too orthodox for an era in which 50-over cricket has become a lengthier form of the T20 format. In theory, Marcus Stoinis would change that complexion, and Travis Head, too, if he can get a doctor’s certificate in time. If ever Australia needed a hand, it’s his broken one.
KL Rahul finished off India’s victory with a superb lofted cover drive as India started their campaign off perfectly.
India’s innings began as if the sun had gone to their heads. Ishan Kishan and Shreyas Iyer were caught from extravagant drives and captain Rohit Sharma was trapped by a break-back from Josh Hazlewood and after 12 balls, India were 3/2. If Australia had short-changed themselves when batting, suddenly they were trading in a whole new currency.
But once Kohli was grassed and he and Rahul settled into their task, and as the dew fell and the crowd rose, Australia’s fangs were slowly drawn. None of the bowlers were embarrassed, but none notably troubled the Indian pair as their partnership grew.
Australia prides itself on being a tournament team, rising to occasions, growing into the event. They will need to be now. They have at least eight more games at seven other venues. They know all will differ slightly, which means the Australians will have to adapt their tactics and outlook as they go. That includes the wisdom of batting first and the notion of what constitutes a playable score.