ICC World Cup 2019: Rohit Sharma makes sure Pakistan had no escape from 7-0
Rohit Sharma ensured that Pakistan had to settle for a 7-0 in favour of India at the World Cup 2019 match, to maintain India's dominance over its neigbour in world cup matches.
In the pre-match build-up to Sunday, Virat Kohli played down the spectacle that is an India-Pakistan ODI World Cup match. "Just another game," he said, repeatedly. It made for a peculiar observation then, as his side were put into bat after Sarfaraz Ahmed won the toss. Walking out to open with KL Rahul instead of the injured Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma didn’t take strike. Why? Well, because Dhawan and Rohit alternate first strike in every match. The last time they batted together against Australia, before Dhawan got injured, Rohit had taken first strike at the Oval. It was Dhawan’s turn on Sunday at Old Trafford against Manchester, or in his absence, Rahul’s. It was extra-ordinary to watch – back in 2003, at Centurion, Sachin Tendulkar had broken his pre-match ritual and taken first strike against Pakistan. And he never did that, instead letting his partner take strike every time – that day was special, of course.
That game was different – India versus Pakistan used to be an unusual game back then. So here we were, with the Indian openers working out the first few overs with nonchalance, as if batting first in a high-pressure game was second nature to them. To his credit, Rahul didn’t let this change go begging. He started slow, contending against the only Pakistan bowler who threatened in those early-morning conditions – Mohammad Amir. Once that first spell was seen off, Rahul cut loose, albeit never taking that extra element of risk. Yet, Rahul only played second fiddle to Rohit’s genius.
It isn't a word often associated with this batsman. Indeed, he is naturally gifted and has ample time to play his shots. In fact, he is the easiest-on-the-eye six-hitter in world cricket today. That maximum off Hasan Ali sailing over third man evoked memories of Tendulkar from that day in Centurion back in 2003. How could comparisons with genius not be made? There is a maturity about Rohit now, which he admits has come from playing 200-plus ODIs. He wants to do a job for his side every time in the middle – get a start, build the innings, accelerate, and make it count. Two hundreds in three games this World Cup are ample proof of that – he has worked to a template and ODI cricket repeatedly rewards batsmen who stick to it. Sunday was but a continuation of what Rohit achieved against South Africa and Australia. His form suggested that – the ease with which he toyed with Pakistan bowling suggested that. Perhaps the best indicator was in his mood after scoring a 24th ODI hundred off 85 balls. Rohit slowed down, as he often does, scoring only 20-odd off the next 30 balls he faced, almost akin to how he starts any new innings coming to the crease.
The difference is in acceleration – when batting on 100-plus, it comes out like a bolt and hits the opposition. Rohit then catapults himself into the big league, reaching the doubles, and with it, the Indian score zooms. At Old Trafford, a fourth double hundred was there for the taking – he missed it through a callous shot and was obviously angry. More importantly, it was the difference between India finishing on 336-5 and 360-odd. How much India scored past 300 didn’t matter, though. It didn’t have anything to do with India’s run-rate, or their batting prowess for that matter. Instead, it was about how much Pakistan could – or couldn’t – chase.
Theirs isn’t a ferocious batting line-up – top-heavy yes, with a bit of experience in the middle-order, but therein also is a weakness. As a whole, they fail to click, especially when chasing a tall target. It could be seen in how they failed to scale Australia’s 300-plus target in Taunton last week, while easily putting on 300-plus against England whilst batting first. On hindsight, this underlines where Pakistan put their first foot wrong – they shouldn’t have bowled after winning the toss, simple. But overcast conditions and moisture beneath the ground surface perhaps hoodwinked them. Through the course of their innings, there was only one passage of play when they looked in control. Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman are their best batsmen, showcasing it with an intelligent 104-run partnership. They saw out the initial spell, attacked Vijay Shankar and Hardik Pandya, and manoeuvred the wrist spinners.
A tall chase, however, always puts scorecard pressure on you, and Pakistan were never in the hunt to chase at 8/over. Thereafter, Kuldeep Yadav’s two wickets dented their chase. Hardik Pandya’s brace ended their hopes altogether. It was a simplification of where India-Pakistan rivalry is at present – we get all excited at the prospect of a mouth-watering clash. The anticipation, though, turns out to be far more gripping than the actual action. And Rohit Sharma made sure that India raked up another drab victory making it a superlative 7-0 score-line since 1992.