If India’s players are feeling invincible right now, they ought to. For the ninth successive game in this World Cup, nearly everything that could go right for India did. KL Rahul plundered a century off 62 balls – the fastest by an Indian in World Cup history. Shreyas Iyer added to his list of impressive contributions with a maiden World Cup hundred. Each of India’s top five crossed fifty as the team amassed 410/4. Even Virat Kohli — to the delight of the Bengaluru crowd pleading “Kohli ko bowling do (give Kohli bowling)” — took a wicket off a ball straying down leg, his first in international cricket since 2016.
New Zealand, their semi-final opponents in Mumbai on Wednesday, must have been watching.
Sure, the hosts were up against bottom-placed Netherlands in the final fixture of the preliminary phase on Sunday, but they have shown the same ruthlessness while brushing aside opponents of far greater pedigree over the past five weeks. The plaudits for their 160-run victory will deservedly go to centurions Iyer and Rahul, who combined for a 208-run fourth-wicket stand off just 127 deliveries. No Netherlands bowler was equipped with the skill set required to halt the carnage at the end as India hammered 127 runs in the final ten overs. Seamer Logan van Beek leaked 107 runs in his ten overs while Paul van Meekeren conceded 90.
The platform for Iyer and Rahul filling their boots with abandon on a festive Sunday was provided by skipper Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill. With off-spinner Aryan Dutt kicking off proceedings for Netherlands as expected – he has bowled the first over in every game — India’s openers were simply not in the mood to let him get away. Sharma got going with two sweeps through backward square leg for boundaries in the first over while Gill charged down the track and targeted midwicket in Dutt’s next over, connecting so sweetly that the ball spanked the stadium’s roof before falling back into the field of play.
Dutt went for 30 runs in his first three overs, forcing captain Scott Edwards to take him off the attack. But the move to bring in Colin Ackermann, another off-spinner, didn’t work either. Sharma drove a full delivery through cover for four before freeing his arms to dispatch another ball in the slot over long-on for six.
To go at Sharma and Gill with off-spinners in the powerplay wasn’t a sound tactic from Edwards. It didn’t help that medium-pacers van Beek and van Meekeren went the distance too as India coasted to 91/0 in the first 10 overs. While Gill has mostly played second fiddle to Sharma in this tournament, he was the more aggressive partner on Sunday, taking just 30 deliveries to reach his half-century. When India raised a 100-run opening stand in 11.4 overs, a massive total was already on the cards. It didn’t matter that Gill fell off a pull to van Meekeren off the very next ball, thanks to a well-judged catch by Teja Nidamanuru at fine leg. Sharma was dismissed soon after when he miscued a pull off Bas de Leede to Wesley Barresi at long on.
Kohli and Iyer built on the foundation with a 71-run stand for the third wicket. Kohli was on seven off 18 balls when his first boundary arrived — a back-of-a-length ball by de Leede was whipped to the right of deep square leg. His next 43 runs took just 35 balls as he flipped a switch in the 22nd over, hitting a six and four off consecutive deliveries by van Beek. This was his 71st fifty, but the crowd was fully expecting to be entertained by No. 50.
Roelof van der Merwe, Kohli’s former teammate at Royal Challengers Bangalore, had other ideas though. Entirely against the run of play in the 29th over, the left-arm spinner managed to get one through him and hit off stump, much to the utter bewilderment of Kohli’s fan base.
Soon enough, however, they were roaring again thanks to Iyer and Rahul’s exhilarating alliance. With the pitch causing no reason for alarm, it was the range of their ambition that was going to decide where India end up. To the misfortune of the Dutch bowlers, both batters weren’t wanting to settle for anything less than a total of 400. That meant taking risks and going aerial in almost every over. Most of those attempts came off, allowing the duo a significant boost in confidence heading into the clash against New Zealand.
While Iyer crossed the three-figure mark in the 46th over with a single, Rahul was on 89 going into the final over. All it took was two balls though, peppering the leg side for consecutive sixes to bring up the milestone in style.
The target was well beyond Netherlands’ reach. A 61-run stand between Ackermann and Max O’Dowd followed by contributions from Nidamanuru and Sybrand Engelbrecht meant Netherlands were bowled out for 250 in 47.5 overs. If India desired a quicker finish to proceedings, Sharma may not have thrown the ball to part-time spinners Gill and Suryakumar Yadav for a couple of overs each. He brought himself on at the end to take the final wicket with a loopy delivery that Nidamanuru hit to Mohammed Shami at long on.
It encapsulated India’s dominance not just on Sunday but across all nine games of the preliminary phase.