Skipper Rohit Sharma’s imperious stroke-play on Wednesday night, which also helped him set a few World Cup records, made short work of the 273-run target set by Afghanistan at the Ferozeshah Kotla ground of the Arun Jaitley Stadium as India cruised to an eight-wicket win.
Sharma’s 30th career ODI century (131 off 84 balls; 16x4s, 5x6s) was his seventh in the 50-over World Cup tournament, the most by any batsman. It came off 63 balls, the least taken by an Indian batsmen in the quadrennial event.
The victory in just 35 overs also helped improve India’s net run rate (from +0.883 to +1.500), something that can come into play as the tournament progresses.
Such was the opener’s dominance from the start against wayward and short-pitched bowling from the Afghanistan medium-pacers that by the time India ended the first power-play, Rohit had scored 76 out of the 94 runs by India.
He continued in the same vein in front of a crowd that was large but not capacity as was evident from some empty seats.
But whatever crowd was present, it made a huge noise on India’s gains – something that won’t be seen at the Kotla again since India don’t play any further World Cup 2023 game here.
While the spotlight was on Sharma as he provided the thrills through his five sixes and 16 fours, even hitting Afghan ace Rashid Khan for two fours and a six in the bowler’s fifth over, the man who made the match for India was pace bowler Jasprit Bumrah.
On a pitch where pace bowlers from both sides struggled to get wickets as the ball was coming on to the bat nicely, Bumrah set the tone by taking four for 39 in his 10 overs.
But for him, Afghanistan would have crossed 300 and probably 325 to make the target look a bit more challenging.
The right-arm pace bowler kept the Afghan batsmen in check in the power-play picking up the wicket of Ibrahim Zadran who had got off to a good start.
He then returned to pick three more wickets as the Afghanistan batsmen squandered a 121-run partnership for the fourth wicket to end at 272/8 in 50 overs.
Azmatullah Omarzai (62) and Hashmatullah Shahidi (80) had put up a century partnership after Afghanistan were reduced to 63/3 in the 14th over. Their partnership was gradually increasing the Afghanistan run rate for the lower-order hard-hitters.
But the Indian bowlers, with the exception of the expensive Mohammad Siraj, kept picking wickets and restricted the Afghans.
Sharma’s blazing start and his 156-run first wicket partnership with Ishan Kishan (47 off 47) in 18.4 overs then made it a stroll to the target. Local boy and former India captain Virat Kohli, who found the most support in the crowd, remained unbeaten on 55 off 56 balls.
Sharma also went past Chris Gayle’s record of most sixes across formats.