ICC World Cup: Of Kohli’s scratchy 49th ton and a '5-star' Ravindra Jadeja

Men in Blue consolidate top position on the table as dress rehearsal of final falls flat

The joy of taking five wickets: Ravindra Jadeja against Soith Africa at Eden Gardens on Sunday , 5 Nov. 2023
The joy of taking five wickets: Ravindra Jadeja against Soith Africa at Eden Gardens on Sunday , 5 Nov. 2023

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The aura of invincibility around Rohit Sharma’s men in this World Cup received a huge endorsement at a magical Eden Gardens on Sunday.

If Virat Kohli first laboured to keep his date with the 49th ODI century to emulate Sachin Tendulkar, the five-man bowling attack led by Ravindra Jadeja was more than enough to decimate South Africa, arguably the most potent batting line-up in the tournament.

It’s eight out of eight then – an all-win record which will remind one of Australia’s 2003 and 2007 crowns without a defeat. If today’s contest was billed as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the final in view of the form of these top two teams, it turned out to be a mismatch after the hosts’ 243-run win as this match also saw an early finish.

The Proteas, who had been outbatting their opponents so far and did not look comfortable on two occasions they chased before (losing one to Netherlands and surviving a scare against Pakistan), simply did not have a Plan B once their main man Quinton de Kock chopped a Mohammed Siraj delivery onto his stumps for five.

Chasing a daunting target of 327 against a bowling attack which has offered no leeway in this tournament, South Africa fared only slightly better than Sri Lanka in the previous game.

They had half of the side back in the hut for 40 runs and with the pace trio and Ravindra Jadeja already wrecking havoc early, captain Rohit Sharma needed to bring in Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav only in the 18th over.

Kohli the birthday boy may have walked away with most of the limelight earlier, but Jadeja underlined his utility for the side in Hardik Pandya’s absence by adding an extremely valuable 29 off 15 balls to beef up the total and then bamboozled the rivals for a five-wicket haul (5/33) on a helpful surface.

For the record, this is only the second occasion that an Indian spinner has grabbed a five-wicket haul in the 50-overs World Cup - after Yuvraj Singh's 5/31 against Ireland on way to their 2011 triumph.

No wonder, head coach Rahul Dravid appraised Jadeja’s performance as ‘exceptional’ only Saturday and felt that his contribution sometimes goes under the radar.

This win helps India retain the top position with 16 points from eight as against the Proteas’ 12 from as many games – sealing it for good as far as the semi-final match-up is concerned. The team members still have a last league game pending against The Netherlands in Bengaluru, but can start planning for an early Diwali celebrations and keep an eye on their potential semi-final opponents.

Earlier, Kohli chose to shun his usual flair on a bit of two-paced wicket – thought he stuck around with younger partner Shreyas Iyer for an extremely valuable 134-run partnership for the third wicket. His strike rate of 83.47 may have prompted some fans to even brand it a ‘selfish innings’ on social media, but then it held the team in good stead in the final analysis.

As the Indian innings went through ebb and flow after a rollicking start by captain Rohit Sharma (40), Kohli realised that a waiting game was necessary to combat the spin duo of South Africa on a sluggish wicket. Keshav Maharaj, the left-arm orthodox spinner, kept Kohli and Iyer on a tight leash as he almost came close to scalping the former Indian captain in the 21st over.

The majestic cover drives were missing as the slowness of the wicket saw him mistiming several of his shots. A scratchy but useful partnership in the team cause between Kohli and Iyer (77) ended when the latter mistimed a big shot off Lungi Ngidi and the consistent KL Rahul also exited soon after.

Over then to Bengaluru for the last league game exactly a week from now – where India can try a few experiments!

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