Kohli ton lifts India to opening win

India 300 for 7 (Kohli 107, Raina 74, Dhawan 73, Sohail 5-55) beat Pakistan 224 (Misbah 76, Shehzad 47, Shami 4-35) by 76 runs.

If Adelaide had never seen anything quite like it, the noisy hordes of India and Pakistan supporters were well and truly familiar with this tale. A Virat Kohli hundred and supporting hands from Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina lifted India to 300 for 7, and the task of claiming victory proved beyond Pakistan for the sixth time out of six in this most intense of World Cup fixtures.

Just as the “sell-out” crowd of 41,587 fell some 10,000 short of Adelaide Oval’s capacity, the contest did not quite reach the heights many had hoped for. Pakistan’s chase of 301 was too jittery, and the captain Misbah-ul-Haq was left in the familiar position of keeping his head while all around him were losing theirs. Misbah’s innings ran Kohli’s close for the best of the match, but it was the collective effort of India’s batsmen that made the difference – Dhawan and Raina also contributed substance.

MS Dhoni then marshaled his men skilfully, cajoling strong spells out of Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Mohit Sharma and R Ashwin on a surface that slowed a little as the match wore on. India received one helping of assistance when Umar Akmal was given out caught behind off Ravindra Jadeja via DRS referral, based on evidence that seemed circumstantial at best, but in truth the match had already begun to slope away from Pakistan.

The loss of Ahmed Shehzad followed by Sohaib Maqsood in the space of three balls from Umesh, after the establishment of what seemed a sound platform, was the hammer blow to Pakistan’s chase, leaving too much for the middle order to do in a team featuring the explosive but never completely reliable Shahid Afridi as high as No. 7. Shami’s four wickets were a just reward for his efforts, which began with the early wicket craved by MS Dhoni, when Younis Khan mis-hooked and was taken behind by India’s captain.

That sort of a start had been made all the more important due to exemplary death-bowling by Pakistan. As well as Kohli played in a worthy reprise of his twin hundreds on this ground in last year’s Border-Gavaskar Test match, India did not quite get away as they would have wanted on a hot day and a blameless pitch. This was down largely to some excellent work with both new and old ball by Sohail Khan, supported by Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz.

When Raina and Kohli were motoring towards the end of their 110-run stand, it seemed as though 330 was plausible. As it was, only 21 runs came from the final four overs. Sohail claimed five wickets when he did MS Dhoni for too much pace and then Ajinkya Rahane for too little with the first two balls of the 50th, narrowly missing a hat-trick when his yorker beat not only Mohammed Shami but also the off stump.

It may even have been better for Pakistan. Kohli offered a pair of difficult chances, and Pakistan needed to clasp at least one of them in order to restrict India to a less lofty total. Yasir Shah could not hold onto a running chance at deep midwicket when Kohli had made just three, and on 76 a well-pitched, left-arm orthodox from Haris Sohail evaded the gloves of Umar Akmal.

Misbah might also have miscalculated slightly when he gave the ball to Afridi before Yasir. While Afridi’s greater experience merited his introduction, Yasir was not called upon until Kohli and Dhawan were well set, and struggled to contain rather than seeking wickets against batsmen less sure of themselves – his final figures a barren 0 for 60 in eight overs.

Masses of spectators from India had assembled at the Oval’s southern plaza before the match, with another gathering at the Rotunda in Elder Park across the Torrens River. Pakistan’s gathering was smaller but resplendent in a mass of green shirts in the lower tier of the eastern stand.

Both groups were initially kept a little quiet as Mohammad Irfan and Sohail Khan began with discipline and purpose. Sohail’s first ball swung back at Dhawan and drew a speculative appeal, though replays indicated the ball had struck bat rather than pad. Irfan’s bounce extracted one edge that flew to where a third slip might have been, but Misbah’s intent to defend was made clear when the second slip disappeared the ball after Dhawan cut the first boundary of the day behind point.

Rohit Sharma has recently been India’s most dominant ODI force, but he was hurried out by Sohail, who generated considerable pace from his strong-shouldered action and arrived too quickly for the batsman’s attempted pull shot. Dhawan’s travails on this tour have been many, and it was a somewhat chastened figure who took his time at the other end, gathering steady momentum but respecting Pakistan’s bowlers.

Kohli, too, had some recent outs behind him, failing to pass 20 in the triangular series or either of India’s Cup warm-up matches. So he played within himself, helping India to keep wickets in hand for a later surge that is already becoming customary at this tournament, only two days and four matches into its narrative. Yasir’s dropped chance was the moment’s grace Kohli required.

It was also the introduction of Yasir that signalled a higher gear from Kohli, boundaries disappearing through cover and mid off and 11 runs from the wrist spinner’s second over taking India past a run rate of five an over for the first time. From there it continued up and up, punctuated only by Dhawan’s dismissal for an important 73. Even that moment aided India’s momentum, for Raina immediately struck the ball cleanly, taking advantage of the gaps left by the presence of only four men outside the fielding circle at most.

Kohli’s hundred drew Indian paroxysms of delight and an expression of relief and gratitude from the batsman, his departure a just reward for Sohail’s persistence. Raina and Dhoni were then expected to pile up the runs in the closing overs, but exemplary death bowling from Sohail and Wahab, much as their captain Misbah had forecast on match eve, meant India did not get past 300.

Pakistan went to the dinner break with plenty of optimism, but it would prove too flimsy to sustain them through the pressures of the sort of chase that has tripped them up in all but one of their six Cup defeats at Indian hands. They will look back ruefully on moments like Yasir’s dropped catch, or Umar’s caught behind dismissal. India, meanwhile, can look ahead with hope. At an effervescent Adelaide Oval, their winless Australian tour has turned a corner.