Friday, June 21

Virat Kohli breaks hearts, and India continues to rise to glory

The wait for Kohli's 49th century served as the game's narrative thread since India's dominance over Sri Lanka was so total.

Thanks to India’s great advance in this World Cup, the game had already become a waiting match for Virat Kohli’s 49th century fairly early on in the innings, when Sri Lanka’s momentarily brilliant start with the ball was neutralised.

There was a romantic cliche ready to be annoyed. Sachin Tendulkar is observing from the stands. tick. Tick, Tendulkar’s enormous statue was unveiled just one day earlier. He had a long-standing relationship with Shubman Gill, to whom he would give the batting baton he had received from Tendulkar. He bowed to Tendulkar, who was in the grandstand, following his game-saving fifty against Pakistan in the 2016 T20 World Cup at Eden Gardens; it appeared like another bow was imminent. Subsequently, reality invaded.

The lovely afternoon ended with a great slower cutter from Dilshan Madhushanka, the young pacer with his remarkable real-life story. To quiet the throng, the mother of a fisherman’s son, who didn’t like that he was wasting his time on tennis but whose father would encourage him and make up reasons to take him to games, stepped in.

Virat Kohli was so stunned that he was unable to stop his hands from betraying him in time. He was met with consoling taps from his partner Shreyas Iyer and the Sri Lankans as they waved away from him and scooped the ball into the clutches of the cover fielder.

It wasn’t just another Kohli hundred in the knock itself. He has never looked more worn out, or struggled with humidity nearly his entire career. While Gill appeared largely unaffected by the weather, Kohli frequently took short water breaks at the conclusion of overs. When he raised his face, the helmet would be taken off, water would be poured over his neck, and he would be towel-dried. Except for one instance at the conclusion of the eighteenth over, when the umpire stopped by for a quick word and a slap on the back, everything went down with the fluidity of a Formula One pit stop manoeuvre. He would frequently be on his haunches at the end of the non-striker.

Through all of this hard work, though, there was also a sense of relaxation. Along with laughing and chatting with Sri Lankan captain Kusal Mendis, the wicketkeeper, he would also intercept throws at the non-striker’s end, snatching the ball with his right glove and passing it on to the bowler. He would stroll over to laugh and throw punches with Gill.

With the exception of the first fifteen minutes or so, during which he had a few near misses—two aerial glances that went just wide of the leg slip, a leading edge back to the bowler Dushmantha Chameera, who made a difficult diving catch to his left, and punches that missed the cover point fielder. But he quickly broke the Sri Lankan momentum that was gathering, along with Gill.

In the second ball of the match, Madhushanka, the unsung hero of the World Cup and the tournament’s top wicket-taker, poked India’s bubble by dismissing Rohit Sharma’s off-stump with a magnificent off-cutter that bent past the prod. The spectators had hardly yet taken their seats when Rohit flicked the first ball, an inswinger that Madhushanka’s U-17 coach claimed was his natural delivery from boyhood, to the square-leg boundary.

Madhushanka met Wasim Akram last year; fortunately, the Sri Lanka board’s official website captured the encounter on camera. “On slow pitches, Sri Lanka pitches, you also have to bowl the one that angles away,” Akram is heard saying. Akram imitates the release and explains to the child why the angler is important and what fields are required for it. Madhushanka would have summoned the identical ball to astound Rohit and the assembly. He and the towering Dushmantha Chameera manoeuvred the ball and put Gill and Kohli to the test. They also enjoyed reprieves, but all of a sudden, while still in the first Powerplay, they were unable to control the game. The two did as they pleased: they hit the boundaries, worked the angles, milked singles, and at one point, the primary concern was who would reach the hundred first. However, Gill went down, misfiring an uppercut aimed against a slow bouncer from Madhushanka to the ‘keeper,’ and Kohli also went down. For now, Hundred No. 49 will have to wait.

After Mohammad Shami’s thunderous return, two Indians—Shreyas Iyer and, to some extent, Muhammad Siraj—may have felt pressure to perform. They both overindulged to finish the box office production. Before he was dismissed by Madhushanka for a slower stroke, Iyer had already threatened to reach his century by smashing the pace and spin, even pulling off a short ball for a six.

Siraj appeared to be anticipating the return of his victims from the Asia Cup final. With the wickets he took in the Colombo Asia Cup final, India’s open-chested predator had reached figures of 9 for 21, sweeping the ball about to bring down Sri Lanka’s top order. With that, there was only one question left hanging in the air in Mumbai: Why did Sri Lanka decide to bowl in the heat when, as Rohit had mentioned after the toss, he felt confident his pacers would be lethal in the dark? Can any team bell the Indian cat during this World Cup? is another question that has been circulating.

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