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08-Oct-2023 16:34:00 GMT
India vs Australia - 5th Match, Chennai

Kohli, Rahul guides India to win despite early losses

India 201 for 3 (Rahul 97*, Kohli 85, Hazlewood 3-38) beat Australia 199 (Smith 46, Jadeja 3-28) by six wickets

Chennai: Virat Kohli made a decisive 85 while Rahul not out on 97 as World Cup hosts India overcame a early collapse to begin their campaign with a seven-wicket win over Australia.

Steve Smith (46) and David Warner (41) top-scored in Australia's total of 199 after they won the toss and batted.

India were in trouble after the loss of early wickets left them teetering on 2-3 before Kohli and KL Rahul rebuilt.

Kohli was caught at mid-wicket off the bowling of Josh Hazlewood (3-38) but Rahul (97*) saw India home.

South Africa had pummelled the highest score in World Cup history when they made 428-5 as batting records were shattered against Sri Lanka on Saturday, but this contest was a sub-continental one-day international throwback.

The pitch in Chennai did not lend itself to expansive hitting down the ground, or innovative 360 strokeplay, and inevitably became a low-scoring arm-wrestle which bucked the trend of many modern white-ball matches.

Warner had played the most fluently for Australia while Smith had shown resilience but India's spinners strangled their opponents in the middle overs.

Spin accounted for six of Australia's top seven - spearheaded by left-arm tweaker Ravindra Jadeja's 3-28 - paving the way for their quicks to later deliver the coup de grace.

In the 10 ODIs played at M. A. Chidambaram Stadium since 2011, the average score was 238 so Australia's total felt comfortable for the hosts.

Yet India began their response in a jittery fashion as Rohit Sharma, Ishan Kishan and Shreyas Iyer all fell without scoring to a combination of ill-judged aggression and fine bowling from Mitchell Starc (1-31) and Hazelwood.

Kohli and Rahul saw off a tricky period and once the shine went off the white ball and stopped swinging, Australia's attack looked unthreatening and skipper Pat Cummins bereft of ideas on how to take wickets.

The India pair were content to accumulate and then showed more attacking intent to punish the bad ball as they enjoyed a stand of 165 for the fourth wicket before Rahul and Hardik Pandya saw them over the line with 52 balls to spare.

In a country with a population of 1.4 billion, where cricket is akin to religion, there was inevitable frenzied scrutiny on the hosts in their opening World Cup match.

The tag of home favourites did not seem to weigh heavily on the shoulders of India's players in the field, though.

Their chests were puffed out during the national anthem and their self-belief did not waver, as they rolled Australia for 199 with disciplined bowling and fielding.

India's blueprint of stifling the runs through the middle overs through spin, bookended by menacing spells from their pace bowlers did the trick.

But when Starc and Hazlewood made early inroads into their batting it exposed some underlying nerves as panic briefly set in and silenced the vociferous home crowd.

Inevitably, the man for such a crisis stepped up when India needed it.

Kohli was a stoic presence at the crease, calmly rotating the strike with the equally unflustered Rahul, as he adjusted to the pace of the pitch and intelligently worked the ball into gaps.

He did offer a chance in eighth over - spooning a pull to a short ball from Hazlewood which Mitch Marsh dropped sliding in when wicketkeeper Alex Carey was better placed to take the catch.

The psychological blow had India lost their stellar player at that point, despite Rahul's serene knock, might have influenced the outcome.

Until his dismissal - thanks to a smart catch by Marnus Labuschagne at mid-wicket after Kohli came a cropper on the pull - this was a flawless knock from the 34-year-old in what could well be his final 50-over World Cup.

If India are to win their first major white-ball tournament since the 2013 Champions Trophy then Kohli will invariably have a leading hand at key moments in the next few weeks.

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