Heavy artillery fire: How Rohit-Kohli combine gave India a 7-wicket win in decider

Vishal Menon
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Rohit Sharma completed his 29th century in the must-win third and final ODI against Australia in Bangalore on Sunday. (PTI)

This was a match in which Rohit Sharma reaffirmed just how much he loved batting at Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Stadium. Barring a brief period of lull, the opener showcased his full repertoire of shots against the Australian bowlers, flaying them to all corners of the ground to register his 29th ODI century. He found support from his captain Virat Kohli, a local favourite, who helped himself to another half-century - a stroke-filled 89.

Together, their efforts comfortably eclipsed Steve Smith’s commanding 131. This was also a match in which Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins - arguably the two best fast bowlers in contemporary cricket on current form - were put to the sword by the flashing blades of India’s rampaging duo. The end result was a comprehensive 7-wicket win for India that helped them seal the series 2-1.

Even before Rohit had walked out to bat to gun down the 287-run chase, social media had gone into a meltdown, showcasing clippings of his herculean 209, which he had scored against the same opposition at the same venue six seasons ago.

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Rohit Sharma celebrates his century. (Source: PTI Photo)

These days, whenever India’s second-most popular cricketer is at the crease, no total looks ungettable, and no score unachievable. It’s this sense of security that would have played in the minds of the team management when they had asked KL Rahul to partner Rohit during the chase tonight. The reason being the other incumbent opener Shikhar Dhawan had walked off the field earlier in the day after hurting his shoulder. “Dhawan was taken for an X-Ray and a call on his availability would be taken after fully assessing his condition,” was the BCCI statement.

Even in his absence, they didn’t have a reason to panic. Because they knew Rohit and Rahul would take them home. However, Rahul was not quite in his element tonight. He departed for a 27-ball 19 with the score reading 68/1 in the 12th over. There was still no reason to panic, because in walked Kohli. Over the past six years or so, it’s the Rohit-Virat partnerships at the top of the order, which have fundamentally taken them past the finish line.

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Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli shared a 137-run partnership. (Source: PTI Photo)

On Sunday night, a similar script would get played out in front of a packed Bangalore crowd. Kohli took his time to get into the groove on a slow pitch. Josh Hazlewood, making a comeback into ODIs after 14 months, looked menacing with his pin-point precision and tight Test match lengths. Even Rohit struggled during this brief phase, in which he scraped through just a single off 19 Hazleweood deliveries. There were a couple of collective groans from the crowd and a gasp of anguish from the Indian dressing room, when Rohit went for an uncharacteristic cross-batted heave off Ashton Agar. But these would only be minor blips as India’s most experienced pair hung on. They had played through more difficult phases in the past.

Starc expensive

Australia captain Aaron Finch brought on Starc for his second spell, and this is when Rohit and Virat decided to go on the offensive. The premier left-arm pacer had conceded 16 runs from the two overs in his first spell. He didn’t fare any better in his subsequent spell either. He and Cummins were both guilty of bowling too wide. They got no help from this benign pitch that had no lateral movement to offer.

Barring Hazlewood and Agar, none of the Australians looked like breaching the two marauders in blue India jerseys. There was one particular shot from Rohit that stood out from his deluge of blistering stroke-play. It was a six smoked off Hazlewood that went sailing past the long-on boundary for a six. By the time Rohit departed — caught in the deep off Adam Zampa’s bowling for 119 — India required just 80 runs from the remaining 13 overs.

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Steve Smith celebrates his hundred. (Source: PTI Photo)

Virat and India’s No.4 Shreyas Iyer marched on without much fuss, peeling off the remaining runs with relish. Iyer played some out-of-the world drives on the up off Starc and Cummins. Infact, the Mumbaikar smacked Starc for a one-handed six over the covers. That singular moment of brilliance just encapsulated a soul-crushing day at the office for the visitors. Iyer remained unbeaten on 44 as India romped home in the 46th over.

India team coach Ravi Shastri was beaming ear-to-ear after his team’s performance. “This team, the boys showed great character. Nobody can say we played an inferior Australia side. We got a thrashing in Mumbai, and then to win two games, with all the travel, and with Australia winning all three tosses. We picked important wickets in the middle overs. Virat and Rohit batted well, and Shreyas will get a lot of confidence from this innings. If sides are looking to take us apart in the last 10 overs, then we have a lot of variety,” he asserted.