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India thrashes Pak, keeps unbeaten record in World Cup

The place is old Trafford – it is cloudy, and rain is expected. Your Prime Minister says win the toss and bat as runs are board shows the confidence – call the toss correctly but Sarfaraz Ahmed, Pakistan Captain, chose to bowl.

India play cautiously and see off the only dangerous bowler in Mohammad Amir. Having chose to bowl, Pakistan bowlers bowled badly, 13 overs of spin in the first 20 overs tell the story. India got off to a great start, Rohit plundered a masterful 140 and India piled 336 runs. Rain, breaks and DLS made sure Pakistan were nowhere near the target and lost the game in a shattering way.

In the hours preceding the much-anticipated World Cup match with India in Manchester Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan advised cricket team captain Sarfaraz Ahmed to bat first if he wins the toss. Being a former star cricketer who had led Pakistan to their only win in the tournament nearly three decades ago, he felt that the team would fare better if they were setting a target instead of chasing one. Sarfaraz Ahmed, however, had different ideas. He won the toss alright but opted to bowl.

Tickets for the meeting between India and Pakistan were applied for in the region of 800,000 - enough people to fill the football stadium more than ten times over. Supporters of both sides came from far and wide to see the latest instalment of one of sport’s biggest rivalries with India seeking to add to their 6-0 lead in World Cup head-toheads. But however deep the passion and pride, fans were able to mix outside the ground and in the stands, where the onus was on a memorable day out as well as the two points for victory.

India supporter Amit Ray had flown from New Jersey in the United States just to experience his fourth World Cup. “To some people, winning this game is bigger than winning the tournament,” he said. “But I think most of us have moved on from that nowadays. While it means the world to win, India’s long winning streak against Pakistan at World Cups means we can see the bigger prize.”

Najeeb Ahmed, a Pakistan fan, undertook a 12-hour journey with family and friends from Frankfurt in Germany and was facing a long night travelling back to mainland Europe before returning to work on Monday. He said: “It is a battle, but a friendly battle, like rivalry between siblings. Whoever we support, we love each other so there is a common bond, and that common bond is cricket. Having said that, I’d love to win.”

Gaurav Pandey, from Kolkata, chose a different comparison. “I think of it as similar to a big football derby, say Liverpool and Everton or City and United in Manchester,” he explained. “We have a long history of rivalry and it means a lot to win, but as supporters we don’t hate each other. It isn’t war, it’s a game of cricket.”

Billed as the greatest sporting spectacle on TV – with some suggesting that the number of viewers exceed the FIFA World Cup Final - the Manchester crowd – sorry the Indian fans from all over the world - saluted their captain and hero, sung the national anthem and the chants were by far the most ubiquitous chant ringing around Old Trafford.

Yet in the end, the day didn’t really belong to Kohli – not for the first time at this ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup, it was the Rohit Sharma show. Perhaps there is a part of Sharma – the same ruthless, single-minded part driving him to be a success at the very pinnacle of cricket – that resents the adulation and fervour Kohli inspires in Indian supporters, believing it should be him engendering that zeal. The roars and chants don’t bother him and let his performances do the chants, which are becoming reliably spectacular.

Watching him bat is to revel in a perfectly-structured piece of art, witness a machine so finely tuned that seemingly nothing can go wrong, yet seeing Sharma at the crease may be the more visceral, exhilarating experience. The way he effortlessly climbs on to his toes, leans into a short, wide ball from Hasan Ali and cuts it for six. The way he seemingly defies the laws of time to create an extra half-second to step back, swivel and pull Hasan for another maximum. His 140 was also the highest score by anyone in an ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup match between India and Pakistan, while the 136 he put on with KL Rahul is the biggest opening partnership in a World Cup match between the sides.

Even during the Sharma show, as the opener crushed 140 runs off 113 balls against India’s greatest rivals, Kohli added to his legend. The skipper’s supporting knock of 77 saw him pass 11,000 ODI runs in a ludicrous 54 fewer innings than the second-quickest man to that milestone, Sachin Tendulkar. Kohli has every shot in the book and invariably plays them more classically and artistically than the book could ever wish to teach.

Former Opening batsmen, 1983 World Cup hero, Krishnamachari Srikkanth says, “Everyone knows how good a batsman Rohit Sharma is but for me the more important innings against Pakistan was from KL Rahul. Going into the game, the biggest question mark about this India team was how they would cope without Shikhar Dhawan. The fact the top three all got runs, that Sharma and Rahul put on more than a hundred for the first wicket and that Virat Kohli got more runs, is huge for India going forward in the tournament.“

With this win it is now three straight wins against three good teams and puts India in a great position to reach the semi-finals. Prior to this, the one bowler who had been a little bit of a concern was Kuldeep Yadav, who didn’t seem to have found his form. However, he was brilliant in this game, particularly the dismissal of Babar Azam which was a sensational delivery.

That leaves India with Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep all bowling well, what more can they ask for?

Srikkanth added “This is starting to feel a little like the West Indian teams of the 1970s, where the opposition would start the game with a psychological disadvantage. Teams are worried about facing India and how they will cope with them, which immediately puts them on the back foot. In this game I felt that Pakistan made a mistake bowling first. Traditionally they are not a chasing team, and we saw how well they played against England batting first. That was a blessing in disguise in many ways and India were able to take the game away from them with their batting. It felt like there was more pressure on Pakistan, who had built this up to be a huge game, whereas India and Rohit were able to treat it like any other match. That is vital in an ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup. You cannot put too much pressure on yourself because of who the opposition is.

The one slight worry was Bhuvneshwar’s injury but they have six days before the next game against Afghanistan so that will give him the chance to get back fit again.

In the moment it was obviously a blow for India, but in some ways it worked out well for them because it meant we got more of a look at Vijay Shankar. He did well in his first game of the tournament and took his opportunity, first with the bat and then later on with the ball.

Shankar’s performance increases India’s options, and as and when Dhawan returns, it will make for an interesting selection dilemma. That is a debate for another time though, for now India should be very happy with how they have performed so far and long may it continue.

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