Forty-three balls, 21 singles and 22 dot-balls. That was the break-up of Rohit Sharma’s progress from the time he reached his half-century with a typically massive six over deep midwicket off Shadab Khan to his next boundary — a forceful drive on the up off Wahab Riaz. That period included the second of three breaks for rain during the Indian innings. And in that time, India’s score had moved from 95/0 in the 18th over to 174/1 in the 36th. Shikhar Dhawan had perished following an enterprising 68 off 65 and Virat Kohli had just about gotten his eye in. In terms of the scoring-rate that you’ve come to expect from ODIs on English wickets in recent times, this was steady bordering on slow progress.
But India would have taken it. For the gains of rediscovering their faith on an opening partnership that incidentally came together four years ago right here in England at the same tournament far outweighed the potential losses arising from the placid start. This is not to say that Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan had come in with some significant loss in form — Dhawan was among the leading run-scorers in the IPL and Sharma seemed to have hit his straps by the end of it. But it was a box, and probably the only one, that India needed ticking.
And once they’d done that, it was time for the defending champions to show just why they are the team to watch out for in the Champions Trophy. And they did in destructive fashion. For, what followed was carnage with Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and then Hardik Pandya obliterating any unlikely hope that Pakistan had of making a match of it with a brazen assault. It started with Sharma and eventually ended with India’s strong bowling attack finishing off the Pakistanis with little fuss.
Having broken his boundary drought, the next Riaz delivery was what Sharma would order every time if given an a la carte option of what he would like to face — short and arriving at waist-high just outside his off-stump—and he happily walloped it for the second six of his innings. And his run-out in the next over only made life worse for the hapless Pakistani bowlers.
Sharma never tires of talking about how MS Dhoni’s decision to make him an opener in 2013 when India won this competition turned his career and life around. Indeed, it turned him from one of Indian cricket’s biggest mysteries — in terms of why they kept picking him—to one of the world’s marquee ODI batsmen.
Generally it’s Sharma who takes the more sedate role in his partnership with Dhawan. But here, against a challenging Pakistan new-ball attack, it was the right-hander who took charge. It was Sharma who got to 50 first, and it was only in the 22nd over that Dhawan overtook Sharma with a spate of boundaries off an out-of-sorts Riaz.
The only time Kohli seemed fazed during the entire day’s play, except for a loose shot that the Pakistanis somehow contrived to drop, was when the pyro went off rather close to him when the teams walked out for the national anthems earlier in the day. And despite scoring an unbeaten 81 off just 68 balls, he kind of still took the back-seat to Sharma first and then Yuvraj and Pandya.
He too preferred taking his time at the start and only launched himself into top-gear following the second rain-break. And this had nothing to with the inevitability that has set in about Kohli playing a starry role in an Indian win in a big match. He still ended up with the shot of the Indian innings, a whiplash shot over the covers off Ali with nothing more than a flick of the wrists. Credit to him too considering the hitting masterclass that Yuvraj was producing at the other end.
It was he who provided the more brutal demolition. There had been doubts over his health after he’d suffered from viral fever for most of last week. It was with the Champions Trophy in mind that the veteran was awarded a recall to the side by MSK Prasad and his selection committee. His experience in the middle-order was what India felt was missing. They forgot to mention his ability to change the game on his day. Like he did here.
Despite scoring 53 off 32, he never really hit a shot in anger. Most of his eight boundaries were more examples of his timing and his wonderful flow of the bat. There were some who expected Dhoni to walk out once Yuvraj departed. But India have a new finisher in the house. Pandya walked in, took guard, and promptly smashed the second, third and fourth balls he faced for three sixes. It took India’s score past 300, and well beyond anywhere Pakistan would think about reaching.