World Cup 2019: The story so far - India’s smooth journey to the semi-finals
So, despite the fact that the result of India’s final group game against Sri Lanka will affect nothing but their position in the top-four, expect Kohli’s side to give it their all.
Powered by four Rohit Sharma hundreds, Virat Kohli’s string of five fifties and an incredible bowling attack that is led by the once-in-a-generation brilliance of Jasprit Bumrah, who pretty much delivers results on command, India made the semi-final of the 2019 World Cup with a group game (against Sri Lanka) to spare. The result that got India there was the win against Bangladesh on Tuesday, a slender 28-run affair, coming on the same ground just two days after the team’s only loss of this World Cup to England. Understandably, it meant plenty to Kohli’s squad. The relief on the captain’s face after Bumrah smoked out the Bangladesh tail and the revelry that followed on the Edgbaston field revealed that this guaranteed spot in the top-four was simply a vindication of an entire squad doing most things right ever since they landed on these isles in late May.
In the long and gruelling campaign thus far, the Indians have journeyed through everything from personal lows to professional highs. India’s great ODI opener Shikhar Dhawan had to go home after he broke a finger during his match-winning hundred against Australia, and then Vijay Shankar had his toe fractured by Jasprit Bumrah at the nets in Southampton—also putting an end to his World Cup—just when the all-rounder was finding his niche in this team.
Such losses in personnel should’ve had a debilitating effect; but Kohli’s squad seems to be fitted with able spares for every little part of their machinery. In came the middle-order talent in Rishabh Pant for opener Dhawan, and the opener Mayank Agarwal (who is yet to make his ODI debut) for the middle-order loss of Shankar. If there is one weakness in this battling India side, it is that they are heavily dependent on their two batting mainstays, Sharma and Kohli.
But what a tournament those two leading lights of Indian cricket have had. Sharma is currently perched at the top of the run-getters list, with 544 runs scored at an average of 90.66. But on this average, the nineties, he rarely does get out, striking a hundred in every other match he has walked out to bat—four in eight innings, the most number of centuries in a single edition along with Kumar Sangakkara in 2015. Kohli, on the other hand, has experienced a rare streak of matches where he hasn’t scored a hundred. But that hasn’t stopped him from stringing together five successive fifties, a spell that began against Australia in the beginning of India’s campaign and was only halted against Bangladesh on Tuesday.
India’s real strength, however, has been their bowling, both fast and spin. While the wrist-spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav began the tournament well, starring in India’s one-sided wins against South Africa and Pakistan respectively, the pacers really came into their own once the matches became contests as the tournament progressed. Mohammed Shami, who made his maiden tournament appearance in the closest game of India’s campaign so far, started off with a last-over hattrick against Afghanistan and hasn’t looked back since. In just four matches, Shami has taken 14 wickets and importantly, it has helped him provide the perfect support to the hero of India’s bowling attack, Jasprit Bumrah.
Bumrah has rarely had an off-day, constantly among the wickets (also on 14 scalps, but spread out evenly among eight matches) and often turning the tide in India’s favour in one furious spell of bowling deep in the death overs, like he once again did against Bangladesh on Tuesday with four wickets. By doing so, the fast bowler has also ensured that India’s weak middle-order hasn’t yet been fully exposed, papering over their cracks by being the sole reason why India has managed to defend middling totals.
Not everything has been perfect, of course. Like against Afghanistan, there were times on the field on Tuesday where Kohli would have wondered if his team had put up enough on the board for his bowlers to defend. Against England on this very ground two days ago, the captain too might have been frustrated by how blunt the middle-order’s approach to England’s total was, accounting for India’s only loss so far in the tournament.
So, despite the fact that the result of India’s final group game against Sri Lanka will affect nothing but their position in the top-four (and hence the location of their semis game), expect Kohli’s side to give it their all. Bumrah even looked amused when he was asked if he would like to skip the Leeds match to prepare his tired body for the semis. “This is my first World Cup, so I want to play as many games as possible,” Bumrah said. “I always look forward to playing, and the more number of matches you play, you enjoy more.”