by: Atika Mehboob TN Sport Pakistan:
Virat Kohli gifted himself a record-equalling 49th ODI century on his 35th birthday, leading India to their eighth consecutive victory in the ongoing World Cup. Kohli’s remarkable innings, which drew him level with the legendary Sachin Tendulkar’s record, was celebrated by a near-capacity crowd at Eden Gardens, turning it into a memorable birthday bash.
Kohli, who walked out to bat in the sixth over after Rohit Sharma won the toss and opted to bat, held the crease until the end of India’s innings, guiding them to a formidable total of 326 for 5. South Africa, in response, struggled and were bowled out for just 83 in 27.1 overs, with Ravindra Jadeja recording career-best figures of 5 for 33 to disrupt South Africa’s chase.
In recent times, most of Kohli’s centuries have seemed almost inevitable, but Sunday’s innings was quite the opposite. The challenging conditions in Kolkata made it difficult even for Kohli, who faced difficulties in handling the old ball. South Africa’s left-arm spinners, Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi, posed challenges with their drift, dip, and turn.
Maharaj, in his very first over, bowled a delivery that dismissed Shubman Gill for 23 with a ripper that narrowly missed the outside edge to hit the off bail. When a similar delivery was bowled to Kohli, he survived despite the ball missing the outside edge. Kohli had a quick start, scoring 17 off 13 balls at one point, but he slowed down when faced with spin. Nevertheless, he persevered and, when Lungi Ngidi returned to the attack in the 35th over, Kohli took charge, jumping out of his crease and striking him for four.
Maharaj bowled a boundary-less spell, reminiscent of ODIs from the 90s, and proved difficult to score against. Shreyas Iyer, known for his skill against spin, couldn’t disrupt Maharaj’s lines and lengths. Iyer, however, took on Shamsi, scoring four boundaries and allowing Kohli to bat through most of the innings. Iyer, after a slow start with 12 runs off 35 balls, accelerated to reach 77 off 87 balls.
With no batting insurance in the form of Hardik Pandya, who is now out of the tournament due to injury, Kohli chose not to take unnecessary risks. Suryakumar Yadav (22) and Jadeja (29) took calculated risks at the other end, ensuring that India surpassed 300.
Rohit Sharma’s strong start laid the foundation for the 134-run third-wicket partnership between Kohli and Iyer. Rohit’s aggressive play in the powerplay, scoring 40 off 24 balls, set the tone for India. He dominated Marco Jansen, who had been the most effective powerplay bowler in the tournament, and took on Lungi Ngidi, South Africa’s primary enforcer in the absence of Gerald Coetzee.
Jansen ended up conceding 94 runs in 9.4 overs for just one wicket, while Ngidi left the field with an injury scare two balls into the final over of India’s innings.
South Africa’s troubles extended to their batting as well. Quinton de Kock was bowled by Mohammed Siraj in the second over, while Temba Bavuma’s stumps were shattered by Jadeja, who made the new ball swing past the outside edge.
With the older ball, the challenge for South Africa grew tougher. Jadeja and Mohammed Shami overwhelmed South Africa’s middle order, with Jadeja dismissing Henrich Klaasen and David Miller, and Shami deceiving Aiden Markram with Test-match line and length. Shami’s delivery brought the ball back into Markram, resulting in a faint edge.
Although it initially appeared that India might not need Kuldeep Yadav, their primary spinner, Jansen and the lower-order batsmen resisted long enough to force Kuldeep’s introduction. Kuldeep bewildered the batsmen by turning the ball both ways and claimed two wickets.
Jadeja secured his second five-wicket haul in ODI cricket, becoming the second Indian spinner after Yuvraj Singh to take a five-wicket haul in World Cups.