Kohli, Karthik set up strong win for India


It says much for the enduring appeal of 50-over cricket that, despite looking the second-best team for much of the day, India still left Edgbaston celebrating an exhilarating victory with six deliveries to spare.

If it was a stand of 186 in 140 balls between Virat Kohli and Dinesh Karthik that provided most obvious cause for Indian joy, as it helped them fight back in a match that had appeared to be sliding inexorably towards Sri Lanka, perhaps it was more subtle factors that will be of long-term relevance.

Even if India had lost this game, they might have been justified in leaving Edgbaston in good spirits, for this match did provide hints that some of the pre-conceptions about this tournament may be misplaced.

India, despite their No.1 ranking, are not among the favourites for the Champions Trophy. That is due, in part, to the suspicion that, in English, early-season conditions and with two new balls, they may lack the specialists to cope. Not only, it is argued, will they lack the batting techniques to negate the rising, swinging ball, but they might lack the bowling firepower – the admirable Bhuvneshwar Kumar aside – to hurt sides in reply.

But, on the evidence of this game, conditions may not be so alien. Despite awful weather in Birmingham for almost as long as anyone can remember, this was an excellent batting surface. And while two new balls were used, the early indications are that the kookaburra-turf ball in operation hardly swings. Indeed, it just means that batsmen still have a hard ball to hit later in the innings. In such circumstances, India, utilising their spinners and powerful batsmen, may be far more at home than has been anticipated. There was not a single maiden all day.

Certainly Kohli and Karthik, celebrating his 28th birthday in some style, looked at home as they accelerated towards victory. While few of the Sri Lankan bowlers will reflect with much pleasure on this performance – Jeevan Mendis conceded 31 in his three overs – there were times when the India pair allowed so little margin for error that it looked almost impossible to contain them.

Kohli, initially at least, picked up runs with stealth and quick running – at one stage, he scored 20 singles in succession and managed an all-run four on this far from huge ground. Karthik was more aggressive, his century came in just 79 balls and included an array of boundaries flicked, driven and bludgeoned through the leg-side.

It would be foolish to read too much into this result. It was not an ODI and the teams agreed to play 15 men aside. What is more, while Sri Lanka decided to retire their top two batsmen just as they might have been expected to accelerate, India allowed their two top-scorers to win the game. Sri Lanka were also without Lasith Malinga who arrived late and was suffering from jet-lag. No one will remember this match in a few weeks.

And, for much of the game, Sri Lanka looked the better side. Kusal Perera and Tillakaratne Dilshan batted with some class to post 209 for Sri Lanka’s first wicket in 35.1 overs, before Dinesh Chandimal and Kumar Sangakkara, back on the ground that he briefly made his home, also impressed.

India’s bowling was loose and their fielding lethargic. While it is true they have not played ODI cricket since January, the rustiness of some of the bowling was alarming and will need to be rectified quickly if they are to progress.

The top-order batting was underwhelming, too. When Kohli and Karthik came together, at 110 for 4 in the 21st over, their cause looked close to hopeless. But Kohli was calm – his century occupied 95 balls and included only seven fours and a six – and his acceleration afterwards oozed class and suggested he had simply been playing with the bowling previously.

Karthik, if anything, was even more impressive, if not quite as pleasing on the eye. The pair set up a platform to help India score 208 runs from the final 24 overs and 131 from the final 14. Sri Lanka’s bowling wilted in the face of the assault.

It is also worth noting the attendance at this match. While several other venues in England and Wales struggle to sell respectable numbers of tickets for games involving England – tickets are still available for the Champions Trophy match between England and New Zealand in Cardiff, and attendance for the second Test between England and New Zealand at Leeds was bitterly disappointing – more than 5,500 people paid £20 a head and watched this game at Edgbaston. If anyone needed any reminder of the financial muscle of Indian cricket – and they really shouldn’t have done – it was provided here.