Kohli gives 49th reason to cheer as India thrash South Africa | Cricket - Hindustan Times

Virat Kohli gives 49th reason to cheer as India thrash South Africa at ODI World Cup

Nov 05, 2023 11:52 PM IST

India ride on Kohli's unbeaten hundred to score 326 before Jadeja's five-for fashions a 243-run win against the Proteas at a heaving Eden Gardens

Each ball is like an event in T20. In Tests, every session seems like a day by itself. One-dayers play games with the mind though. When on song, Rohit Sharma’s batting transcends levels of exhilaration to a point where only he dictates the pace of the innings and the match. It’s freakish, it’s a game-killer.

India's Virat Kohli celebrates his century during the match against South Africa (ICC)
India's Virat Kohli celebrates his century during the match against South Africa (ICC)

South Africa know that first hand now. Mohammed Shami making the ball move, Jasprit Bumrah getting the ball to jag in from good length and Ravindra Jadeja getting the ball to turn away after pitching on middle and leg — all within a T20-like 27.1 over span — in this 243-run dismantling of South Africa makes the win too emphatic but too soon.

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Kohli’s batting is time travel though. On a tricky Eden Gardens pitch, in Kolkata’s autumn twilight, running up against superb South Africa fielding — hundred No.49 on his 35th birthday couldn’t have been more vintage. Soaking in the pressure, sussing up the field, allowing the best bowler to have his moment but never letting go of the reins of the match, Kohli was all about taking the innings deep. South Africa aspired for similar fortitude but failed miserably. Which is why it never gets too old to watch how basics still work in the day and age where batting has been cast as a power flexing exercise.

Kohli was far from it. Forty one runs off 64 balls from the spinners underscored his measured approach in the middle overs when Keshav Maharaj was bowling economical overs at one go, but more significantly the pitch was slowing down. “My job was to keep the momentum going when I got in. But after ten overs, the ball started gripping and the wicket started slowing down,” said Kohli after India’s innings.

Only 10 boundaries laced Kohli’s hundred this time, nine of them coming against pacers. It was significant given Kohli backs himself to take the attack to the spinners. But this time he checked himself. Maharaj was disciplined but Shreyas Iyer went after left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi as Kohli focused on giving the innings more depth.

“My role was to bat deep and till the end after the openers fell because that's what I've done, that was the communication as well — to have guys bat around me,” he said. “Shreyas started hitting well as well. We were not thinking we would get to 326 but that's what happens when you dig deep and take the game into the last few overs.”

So dire was the state of South Africa’s bowling that only Kagiso Rabada and Maharaj in tandem could have stemmed the one-way traffic. Temba Bavuma probably erred in bowling out Maharaj in one go. Thirty runs in 10 overs apart from the wicket of Shubman Gill is great returns after conceding an expensive start, but by the 31st over South Africa had to revert to pace. Marco Jansen returned, only to be spanked for three boundaries to compound his woes that aggregated 94 runs by the time he was done bowling.

Kohli never went overboard, scoring 60 off 57 balls versus pace but also showing patience, application and awareness. A lot of wrists came into exploiting the gaps as Kohli inched towards another landmark, keeping India’s score ticking all along.

“Today was not an easy pitch,” said Sharma later. “You needed someone like Kohli who batted to the situation.” Jadeja, who took 5/33, felt 300 would have been unachievable without Kohli. “This pitch looked like a 260-270 wicket,” he said at the post-match press conference. “To be able to rotate the strike, find boundaries, even when two spinners were bowling in the right areas, to remain not out and take the score over 300 is a massive achievement.”

Once a 134-run partnership with Iyer took India to the edge of the final quarter of the innings, Suryakumar Yadav did his thing at a ground he once called home in IPL. Slog sweeps, majestic drives and late cut — Yadav once again showed why he is trusted to prop up the batting at this stage. There was no final flourish, not by India’s standards anyway. If the first 10 overs produced 91 runs, the next three sets of 10 overs yielded 33, 55 and 60 runs respectively. But India lost only one wicket in that phase, thanks to Kohli's overseeing.

Mathematics of progression dictates 370 is achievable from 100/1 in 13.2 overs but here too Kohli’s pragmatism stopped India from trying anything out of character. “When you lose two wickets and don't have Hardik, you need to bat deep and get to a stage where the opposition feels like we have to restrict them,” said Kohli. This is where South Africa failed to counter Kohli’s acumen. Those 87 runs in the last 10 overs don’t look much compared to what’s being piled in T20 but it was enough to knock South Africa off their perch. Equalling Sachin Tendulkar’s record was another organic bonus for Kohli. “To be able to do that on my birthday, in front of the whole crowd, it’s the stuff of dreams, something that as a child you wish had happened,” he said.

Right here, right now, it probably doesn’t get better than this — watching India notch eight wins in a row with Kohli scoring hundreds like nobody’s business. But Jadeja shoots off a cheeky warning. “Nazar mat lagaiye. Yeh jo centuries ho rahe hai, yeh hamare jhole mein aa rahe hai. (Let’s not jinx it. All these centuries are helping India’s cause).”

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    Somshuvra Laha is a sports journalist with over 11 years' experience writing on cricket, football and other sports. He has covered the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, the 2016 ICC World Twenty20, cricket tours of South Africa, West Indies and Bangladesh and the 2010 Commonwealth Games for Hindustan Times.

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