Virat Kohli and KL Rahul lead India's fightback in Cricket World Cup win over Australia

Hosts chase down 200 with six wickets in hand after being 2-3 in Chennai on Sunday

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Virat Kohli and KL Rahul engineered one of the great fightbacks in ODI cricket as India defeated Australia to open their World Cup campaign in style in Chennai on Sunday.

Chasing a tricky target of 200, India were in all sorts of trouble at three down for just two runs. It would have been worse had Mitchell Marsh not dropped a simple chance off Kohli.

But from there, it was the Kohli-Rahul show.

Former India captain Kohli took his time to settle down before opening up, scoring a majestic 85 as the hosts ultimately eased to a six-wicket win.

He added 165 in the company of Rahul, who made a near flawless 97 not out to underline his importance in India’s batting order.

The Aussies had made the perfect start with the new ball. Mitchell Starc, bowling the first over, induced a loose drive from new opener Ishan Kishan and the left-handed batsman barely reached the delivery, only edging it to first slip.

In the next over, Josh Hazlewood got one to move back in sharply to hit captain Rohit Sharma in front of the stumps. Even a review could not save him as both India openers were out for a duck to leave the home team shell-shocked at 2-2.

Hazlewood then completed the top-order decimation by getting Shreyas Iyer caught driving at cover. It was the first time that India’s first three batsmen had been dismissed for ducks in the same ODI.

The tournament hosts would have been in even deeper trouble had Marsh held on to a regulation miscue from Kohli to square leg. Had Marsh held on, India would have been 20-4 and the match could well have ended there.

But Kohli survived, and then flourished, as both he and Rahul played out the new ball threat of Starc, Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.

Once the spinners and Cameron Green came on, the pressure was released and both went about rebuilding the innings.

Three fours off leg-spinner Adam Zampa’s bowling in the 18th over by Rahul broke the shackles. Then, as the evening dew set it, batting became easier.

Kohli and Rahul put together 165 runs for the fourth wicket, which ended when Kohli chipped one to mid-wicket 15 short of a deserved century.

He hit six fours in his 116-ball innings for one of his best knocks in World Cups.

Rahul took his team past the finish line, finishing three short of his century. He faced 115 balls and hit eight fours and two sixes.

Rahul secured victory by cover driving Cummins for a six as India reached the target with 52 balls to spare, boosting their net run rate.

Earlier, Australia started their innings cautiously on a two-paced wicket. In-form batsman Marsh departed early, edging Jasprit Bumrah to slip. But experienced batsmen David Warner and Steve Smith blunted the new-ball attack expertly, before the spinners came in early.

Ravichandran Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav got appreciable purchase as the pitch began to disintegrate in the first half of the innings.

Left-arm spinner Yadav got things rolling, deceiving Warner in the air to draw out a return catch. Ravindra Jadeja then got the biggest scalp of the innings as he breached the defence of a well-set Smith on 46, hitting off stump to beat a forward defence.

Jadeja then ran through the middle order, getting Marnus Labuschagne and Alex Carrey in one over before Yadav broke the back of Australia’s batting by uprooting the leg stump of Glenn Maxwell.

At 140-7 in the 37th over, Australia were in danger of folding for under 150. But some calm batting from Starc (28) and captain Cummins (15) ensured the Aussies played out most of the 50 overs and also gave the hosts a target of 200.

India were forced to change their bowling plans early as seamer Hardik Pandya hurt his bowling finger. He only bowled three overs, which meant the spinners were pressed into action earlier and all had to complete their quota of overs. In the end, Jadeja (3-28), Yadav (2-42) and Ashwin (1-34) kept their runs down and took key wickets in the middle phase to derail Australia’s batting.

Updated: October 08, 2023, 4:52 PM