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India’s indomitable run continues in grand style as they thrashed England to virtually seal a semi-final berth in the ongoing World Cup. While they had won the previous 5 matches chasing targets, this time they faced a new challenge as they were asked to bat first. True champions adapt to all circumstances and Team India too not only survived a difficult track but made sure they continued the dominance as the English side slumped to their 5th defeat. With Sri Lanka next in their path to World Cup glory, India would be keen to carry forward the momentum even against their southern neighbours.

Rohit mentioned at the toss that he too would have chosen to bat to test themselves. The pitch was a tad sluggish where it was expected that the ball would grip the surface more, leading to more assistance for spinners. But India played an unchanged side keeping Ashwin on the bench. At 40 for 3 and the pitch making life difficult for batters, Indian think-tank would have certainly felt a need to go in with an extra spinner. But Rohit’s calm batting after Virat’s early loss, along with Rahul, allayed all fears and worries.

Both batted sensibly knowing that this wasn’t a 350-run pitch, and even a target of around 250 could be challenging. They got out trying to up the run rate but Rohit’s magnificent 87 was a class act. Curbing his natural attacking game, ‘Hitman’ gave respect to the bowlers when they were bowling well. His ability to read the situation of the game, as a batsman and as a captain, has made him stand apart and is a key reason for India’s stupendous success until now.

Rohit’s Mumbai Indians protégé, Suryakumar, too played a flawless innings. So good was his knock of 49 that Surya was the only one in the entire match with a strike rate above 100! More importantly, India also passed the litmus test of their lower order getting tested. A good team has the ability to fight till the end and Indian tailenders showed that they can be relied upon when in need. While it wasn’t a par score but 229 for 9 on the Lucknow pitch was a fighting total.

The handy time spent at the crease also meant that Indian bowlers understood the pitch well and knew the lengths they had to bowl. In contrast, English batters after a solid 30-run opening stand seemed like a cat on a hot tin roof, as Indian pacers made them huff and puff. Bumrah and Shami’s sharpness reduced them to 39 for 4 in the first powerplay and the stage was set for the Indian spinners. Kuldeep bowled probably the ball of the tournament so far when he spun one viciously from outside the off stump, beat Butler’s defence and rattled the timber. It was a stunner and Butler’s face was a grim reminder of the doom his team was facing!

The rest of the English batsmen could only delay the inevitable but never looked like they had a strong desire to win. Coming back for their second spells, Bumrah and Shami eventually put English batters out of their misery and secured a huge 100-run victory in a low scoring match. In the process, Shami picked up his 40th wicket in 13 World Cup games, reminding Indian team management why he should be picked ahead of Siraj in the pecking order!

With 3 league games left, India now takes on Sri Lanka who at the time of writing this are involved in a dog fight with Afghanistan to secure two crucial points. Lanka has made a strong comeback in the competition and India will do well to not take them lightly. The return of Angelo Mathews and Dushmantha Chameera now lends invaluable experience to a young team.

Lankan captain, Kusal Mendis has led the team with example and his boys seemed to have put the ghosts of the Asia Cup final to rest where they folded against Siraj and Co. for just 50 runs! Though on skill and experience, India is far ahead of the Lankans but World Cups in particular can throw strange surprises.

The match will be played at Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium, known for huge totals, and the venue of India-Sri Lanka’s final in the 2011 World Cup final. The big hope for Sri Lanka would be to put the Indian team under pressure from the start but that’s easier said than done. The Lankans need to be fearless as their opponents are already taking giant strides towards their third ODI World Cup title. At the moment, however, all the might of the Sri Lankan side is unlikely to be able to stop this red-hot Indian team gunning for ultimate glory!


Siddhaarth Mahan The writer is a specialist on Sports and Cinema who works as an actor in the Hindi film industry

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