ICC World Cup: How Kohli, KL Rahul helped India ride the storm

Their 165-run partnership shows the 50-overs format rewards discipline and skill

India kicks off campaign with 6-wicket win over Australia (photo: @ESPNCricinfo/X)
India kicks off campaign with 6-wicket win over Australia (photo: @ESPNCricinfo/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Social media was abuzz with memories of India's semi-final exit from the 2019 ICC World Cup, when India were left tottering at 2/3 against Australia on Sunday, 8 October.

The scoreboard had read 5/3 at one stage at Old Trafford back in 2019, with Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli all back in the hut. 

But this year would be different.

With Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood breathing fire, the 200-run target looked like a 350 — until Kohli and Rahul joined hands for a stellar 165-run partnership. And it was a masterclass of character, technique and handling of a tricky chase.

Yes, Kohli missed out on his 48th ODI century and comeback man Rahul fell short of the landmark by three runs, but their grit was worth their own weights in gold. 

It’s a long tournament ahead, but then, the pressure would have only intensified on Rohit & Co if the batters had eventually negated the good job done by the spin trio earlier in their opener.

The Kohli–Rahul partnership once again showed that, much as the 50-overs format may be facing a struggle to stay relevant with the T20 invasion, it still is a superior white-ball format to separate the men from the boys. 

How did they manage to hold the Indian chase together after Ishan Kishan and Shreyas Iyer, two of the young turks with big responsibilities, fell to poor shot selection? The clue lies in Player of the Match Rahul’s admission after the game: ‘’Virat said that I should play like Test cricket for a bit. Happy to play this for the team. There was a bit of help for the fast bowlers early on. Towards the end, the dew played it’s part for them.’’ 

Well, it could have been a different story if Mitchell Marsh had managed to hold on to the mistimed pull by Kohli when India was still at 20/3. But then, that's how the dice rolled yesterday.

Apart from that one blemish, the master batter—who on Sunday overhauled Sachin Tendulkar’s record as India’s highest run-getter in the ICC white ball tournaments—demonstrated how to respond to the demands of the situation. 

Kohli’s innings of 85 was characterised by supreme fitness and cricket sense, as 61 of his runs came from singles and twos, while his first boundary came off a controlled pull shot off Pat Cummins after having stayed around for about 50 deliveries.

The job may have been done when he finally left the ring, but frustration was writ large on Kohli’s face when TV cameras caught him in the dressing room after his dismissal. 

Rahul, the perfect accomplice to Kohli, vindicated the team management's last-minute decision to give him a chance in the final 15 for the World Cup.

Possibly no other member of the current team has been trolled as harshly as the Bangalorean, who was a treat for the eyes on Sunday.  

Facing the spin challenge posed by Adam Zampa, Rahul employed a late cut, back cut and an exquisite extra cover drive in a single over — prompting the likes of Ravi Shastri to remember the great Gundappa Vishwanath’s penchant for the risky late cuts.

Rahul matched Kohli stroke for stroke and, even after taking on wicketkeeping duties for 50 overs, displayed unwavering determination in the middle. 

A tough contest, but this will certainly calm the nerves in the Indian dressing room ahead of the Afghanistan game in two days’ time.

And then it is arch rivals Pakistan on Saturday... It’s only a job well begun!

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