Bengaluru: Moment Indian skipper Rohit Sharma won the toss and elected to bat first, a huge roar erupted at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. The 27,000-odd crowd had opted to sacrifice Diwali celebrations at home in hope of watching a display of grand fireworks from the Indian batters. They desired to see a full show of entertainment and not a curtailed package which would have been the case had Netherlands taken first strike.
Luckily, they got their festive wish answered in the best possible way as one Indian batter after another took a hapless and toothless Netherlands bowling attack to the cleaners to rake up a mammoth 410/4 in 50 overs — their second highest World Cup score. Top-order Rohit Sharma (61), Shubman Gill (51) and Viral Kohli (51) all laid the foundation with brilliant half-centuries before Shreyas Iyer (128 not out) and homeboy KL Rahul (102) stole the show with blistering centuries.
Then it was a matter of how long will Netherlands resist this Indian bowling attack that has been knocking down top-quality sides for fun. Surprisingly, they offered some fight before being bowled out for 250 in 47.5 overs.
India, the immovable object this World Cup, had promised there won’t be any letdown in intensity against the lowly Netherlands despite having assured themselves of the top spot and a semifinal date against New Zealand in Mumbai next Wednesday. Coach Rahul Dravid even asserted that since the team was well rested following their massive win over South Africa last Sunday in Kolkata, he would field the same strong XI to ensure the competitive fire remained high.
That fire and intensity was out in full cry on Sunday here with Rohit and Gill first setting the tempo with a fiery opening stand of 100 in just 11.4 overs. Right from taking on Aryan Dutt in the opening over, both Rohit and Gill, aware how great the pitch was for shot-making, just kept smashing everything in their sight as Netherlands instantly knew they were in for a hiding.
Almost against the run of play, Gill departed in the 12th over before Rohit too joined his junior colleague in the 18th over. While the two quick wickets halted the momentum, the Bengaluru faithful weren’t disappointed as they wanted to watch their hero Kohli score a big one. Some hoped he would eclipse Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 49 ODI centuries. It looked like it would happen as Kohli, after a watchful start, switched several gears up to blaze away to a run-a-ball fifty. Sadly, however, he completely misread a Roelof van der Merwe delivery and ended up bowling himself out. The loud roar moments ago was replaced by deafening silence.
Amidst this calmness in the 29th over is when Iyer and Rahul joined forces. The duo have been making significant contributions in India’s bull-run but have badly missed that one big statement-making knock. Both chose Sunday and Netherlands ended up being collateral damage as the duo showed why the team management had backed them to the hilt despite them missing a chunk of the matches on the road to World Cup owing to injuries.
They forged a 208-run stand for the fourth wicket with Iyer playing the aggressor at the start before Rahul opened his shoulders in the last five overs. Iyer pulled out all the punches in his bag, smacking sixes and fours at will, even answering his questions about his perceived weakness against the short ball with aplomb. Yes, the Netherlands attack was low on quality but still the job had to be done.
Rahul then laid the icing on the cake by bringing up a well deserved century after narrowly missing out against Australia. He too essayed some stunning shots, the team management rising in unison and applauding him when he raised his bat after reaching the three-figure landmark.
(Published 12 November 2023, 16:07 IST)