Five games in, the law of averages has not applied to this team so far. At the centre of this powerful vortex consuming all in its path is the eye of the storm, Virat Kohli, the calm epicentre, the glue who binds the diverse elements and brazenly attempts to scale both tall run-chases and some stratospheric landmarks which are in his sights.
The epoch-making 49th ton, which would have equalled Sachin Tendulkar’s ODI tally, nearly happened on Sunday, but Kohli faltered on 95 (104b; 8×4, 2×6), going for a six and falling to a Matt Henry slower delivery with five runs still needed for victory.
With the long tail exposed and captain Rohit Sharma looking on, incredulous, Ravindra Jadeja (39 not out off 44; 3×4, 1×6) at the other end calmly fashioned the winning runs, laying to rest the ghosts of India’s semifinal defeat to the same team in the 2019 edition.
Incidentally, Jadeja was batting for the first time in the World Cup since that game. The win not only broke a jinx stretching back to 2003 but ticked a lot of important boxes along the way.
For one, India have a veteran pacer who can come off the bench and break the back of the Kiwi resistance with a fifer, as Mohammed Shami did with his 5/54. Shami showed there is no alternative to the skills of a specialist in a crunch game, and though India needed two players to replace the injured Hardik Pandya — Shami and Suryakumar Yadav — they made the best of the bargain.
Rarely are teams blessed with so many cricketers who have the ability to hit peak form when required, though Surya missed out on Sunday, sacrificing his wicket for Kohli amid some chaotic scenes. The sacrifice was well worth it, as the ‘chasemaster’ again fashioned a tricky chase on a pitch with some inconsistent bounce in these high-altitude conditions, showcasing that he is still the spine in this batting order.
All the others need to do is either set the early tempo with the bat, like Rohit Sharma does game after game, or bat around him, like KL Rahul and then Ravindra Jadeja did on Sunday.
The template has worked like a charm so far in chases, as it has for years.
Kohli’s consistency is uncanny. He can absorb pressure by rotating strike, swat away the bad balls for boundaries — even square drive some good ones or charge down the ground to the pacers — and break a target down by eliminating any notion of prevailing chaos. Kohli is still relentlessly driving both this team and his ambitions forward.
Even the boxes India did not tick — like chief spinner Kuldeep Yadav leaking runs and being unable to prise an opening in the middle overs, or the surprisingly poor catching on view, or Shreyas Iyer giving in to his ego and falling to yet another short delivery — did not hurt them.
Daryl Mitchell’s spectacular, counterattacking 127-ball 130 couldn’t take his team over the line as Shami stemmed the tide.
With India 230/5 in 41 overs and needing 44 more from 54 balls, with only the long tail to come, the tense crowd sensed its moment and came alive, infusing energy in the proceedings with its “Kohli, Kohli” chants. It was again all about the man.
Would a 49th ton happen? This wasn’t as sealed a deal as the Bangladesh affair, though, and Jadeja had other ideas. He danced down to Rachin Ravindra, who had forged a fine partnership with Mitchell earlier to again showcase his worth. The shot went high over mid-wicket for six as the fielder slipped near the boundary, no doubt undone by the poor condition of the Dharamshala outfield.
Kohli still went for it, and eventually it was one hit too many.
The win was set up in the initial overs of the game, as Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj’s new-ball spell tied the Kiwis up in knots. Devon Conway fell early, the nerves set in, and the Kiwi batters had a poor first Powerplay, allowing the two pacers to settle on their lengths.
It wasn’t until Mitchell came in and showed the pluck to stand outside his crease or dance down the wicket that the runs started coming.
Shami did the rest, taking a wicket with his first ball in the World Cup and posing happy questions for the team management.
This wasn’t an easy win by any means, but India right now seem untouched by notions of the ordinary. Even the hill mist which descended here in the late evening and disrupted the game for a quarter of an hour couldn’t break the winning run.