New Delhi: When India took on Australia at The Oval on Sunday, they were playing to a home crowd. With a sea of blue seated around the boundary line, Virat Kohli and his men would not have felt far from home. And they enjoyed the comforts of home too. India won the toss, chose to bat on a largely flat track and put up 352, the highest Aussies have ever conceded in a World Cup game.
Indian bowlers then showed why they are considered formidable and bowled out Australia for 316 on the last ball of the game. It was a clinical win, with each and every player doing their bit, fulfilling their role. Everything worked perfectly. India never lost control of the game. Australia fought hard and they almost did what was required of them. But they lost big wickets at big moments and that turned out to be the difference.
Here are the talking points from the biggest game of the World Cup till now:
Indian top order delivers, again
India’s opening pairing of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma has been setting records habitually for past few years. On Sunday, they set a bunch of them again. Dhawan and Sharma put up a 127-run stand and in the course of their partnership, they became the most successful ODI opening pair against Australia. It was also their 16th 100-run partnership, which brought them on par with Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist as second on the list of most opening century-stands in ODIs. The first on that list are two guys called Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. You might have heard of them.
Simply put, India rely on Dhawan and Sharma because, well, they are reliable. On a pitch that did not have much to offer for seamers, no swing, not much bounce, Virat Kohli chose to bat after winning the toss. The game-plan was simple: See off Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins during their first spells with the new ball and attack Marcus Stoinis and Nathan Coulter-Nile. The Indian openers followed that plan to perfection. Dhawan and Sharma built their innings patiently and put up 41 runs in the first 10 overs. They went after Stoinis, Coulter-Nile and Adam Zampa. Sharma, who was more subdued on the day, departed on 57, but Dhawan was at home. His scores from four innings at The Oval read: 102*, 125, 78 and 21. He went on to hit his third century at the hallowed ground, a commanding 117 off 109, that laid the groundwork for India’s fourth highest World Cup total.
It was Sharma who powered India to win their World Cup opener against South Africa with a ton. Just the next game, Dhawan took on the duty to do the same. India's openers firing in tandem in early stages of the tournament is the best thing that could have happened for the team.
Not just top heavy
Dhawan and Sharma led the charge and Kohli followed up with studied brilliance. The Indian captain became the anchor once Sharma departed and held the fort till the very end. And he paced his innings in trademark style, in that familiar controlled aggression that grows and grows until it explodes. He started slowly and then went on to play second fiddle to Hardik Pandya's cameo. Pandya was promoted up the order at number four to make maximum use of the end overs and go for a big total. He did exactly that. He was lucky to survive when he was dropped by Alex Carey on the first ball he faced and then he went on to punish the Aussies for it. His 48 off 27 was crucial in helping India get that extra 30 to 40 runs that makes the chase daunting. Little cameos from MS Dhoni and KL Rahul took India to 352, the highest Australia have ever conceded in a World Cup tournament.
India's only concern was their iffy middle order and their over-reliance on the top order. But their two games have shown they probably don't have to worry about that now.
Australia paced the chase right, but lost wickets
Australia didn't start too bad themselves. In fact, they were pretty much at par with India. Their game-plan was — do what India did. Build up slowly, see off the strike seamers, consolidate in the middle overs and pick up the pace towards the end. They almost pulled it off. At the end of 10 overs, they were 48 for no loss. But the story of the middle overs was different. India made 195 runs in 30 overs between 10-40 and lost only two wickets. In the same period, Australia put up 190 runs, but lost 5 wickets in the process. In the 45th over, 44.2 to be specific, of their respective innings, both India and Australia were at 282. Only the difference was — India had lost 2 wickets, and Australia, 6.
India could go for the big ones, accelerate in the last 5 overs because they had the luxury, the wickets in hand to do so. Australia, on the other hand, did not. The asking rate could have been complied with had they not lost big wickets at crucial junctures.
First to go was Captain Aaron Finch in the 14th over. He had got his eye in, 36 of 35, and he was furious when he was run out. It was a crucial moment in the chase; Warner was not his usual self. He was subdued on the day, finally dismissed by Chahal after a combative 56 off 84. This made Finch's wicket all the more important. The Aussie Captain can get ruthless after settling in, which exactly what one needs when chasing 352.
Steve Smith, too, played a fine inning before he was caught leg-before by Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. He departed at 69 off 70, failing to carry it till the end as Kohli did. Usman Khawaja and Glenn Maxwell provided some fireworks and Carey came in later and indulged in some late innings hitting to make 55 off 35. But eventually, Australia fell 36 runs short. It is not a big margin and it only tells you that the Aussies could have gotten there. It would have been the biggest successful chase in a World Cup game, but Indian bowlers came well.
However, Australia can take a lot of positives from the game, especially from their batting effort. It was India's late onslaught that added the 33-odd runs to the final score making the chase more difficult. Australia paced their innings right, they were at par with the runs till over 45. They just lost the big wickets on their way there.
Bowling becomes the difference
The difference between the two sides was the depth in bowling, especially the spin options available. On one hand, Australia's number 3, 4 and 5 bowling options were targeted by India, on the other, Australia could not cope with Indian spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal.
India had seen off Starc and Cummins and creamed Coulter-Nile, Stoinis, Zampa and Maxwell for runs. But Australia could only target Pandya. Chahal and Yadav did for few runs, but for the most part, they executed the chokehold in the middle overs well and the required run rate climbed steadily. Chahal even picked up two big wickets of Warner and Maxwell, proving once again his worth after his match-winning display in the opener against South Africa.
However, the difference was not just in bowling reserves as India's strike pair of Jasprit Bumrah and Kumar picked up three wickets each. In one of the turning points of the game, Kumar dismissed both Smith and Stoinis in the 40th over, crippling Australia's chase right at last corner.
India's batting set the win up for them; 352 is a total that puts you in command by default in any condition. But it was ultimately India's bowling that saw them through.
Bails that just won't come off
For the fifth time in this World Cup, the ball hit the stumps but failed to knock them off. Warner survived an early scare when Bumrah's short one took an edge off his bat and hit the base of his stumps but the bails refused to budge.
This has become almost a steady fixture this World Cup and Quinton de Kock, Dimuth Karunaratne, Chris Gayle, Mohammad Saifuddin and now Warner have all survived to tell the tale of stubborn bails. It's great if it happens to your batter, not so much when it's your bowler.