Kolkata, Nov 5 (SocialNews.XYZ) It was Guy Fawkes Day. Commensurately, there were fireworks. The sound and fury, though, was ununiform -- it came almost entirely from the home front. Much to the satisfaction of an overwhelming majority in the 66,000 audience, of course!
The 37th fixture of the 2023 Cricket World Cup had, because of the way the competition has evolved, become the biggest fixture of the tournament so far -- the first and second positioned teams in the league table in a pre-knockout clash of titans.
But the touted battle did not live up to its billing. India were again much too good for the opposition, crushing them -- with flashing willow and talking leather -- by a mammoth 243 runs.
It was not merely the fact of victory, but the margin of it. The outcome undoubtedly exposed clear daylight between the strength of the Indian team and the rest of the field.
Yet, the proof of the pudding will only come at the knockout stage, where India have fallen at the first hurdle in the last two championships.
Tens of thousands among the spectators chanted 'Kohli', 'Kohli' even before the match got underway -- conscious that Virat Kohli stood on the threshold of equalling Sachin Tendulkar's 49 one-day international (ODI) centuries.
Much to his fans' delight, he fulfilled their wishes, that, too, on his 35th birthday.
But it was the slowest ODI hundred in his glittering career on a wicket where the odd ball stopped and stroke-making was not easy. He remained unconquered on 101.
Ever since he took over the Indian captaincy a couple of years ago, Rohit Sharma has in ODIs adopted a high-risk, unselfish, almost carefree approach to opening the innings.
This has been distinctly different from his previous approach of laying a foundation before launching into attack.
The switch has probably been dictated by Twenty20 cricket infusing greater aggression among batsmen in general and consequently the need to capitalise on the first powerplay so as to establish a platform for a secure total -- these days considered to be not less than 350.
Sharma's blast catapulted India to 61 in five overs -- a run rate in excess of 12 an over.
His personal contribution was 40 off 24 balls when he drilled Kagiso Rabada into the hands of his opposite number Temba Bavuma at mid-off. Two sixes and six fours embellished his effort. Perhaps a trifle more patience on Sharma's part will serve India better, for it is likely to lend to more substantial contributions.
After rather wayward opening overs from Lungi Ngidi and Marco Jansen -- the latter bowling a nervous, uncontrolled 10-ball first over, which conceded 17 runs, including extras from wides -- Rabada introduced discipline and was rewarded in his very first over with Sharma's wicket.
He also generated more pace and bounce than his colleagues to peg the Indians back on a pitch not exactly conducive to fast bowler.
Not a seat seemed to be empty at the venerable Eden Gardens, venue of countless international cricketing engagements since 1934.
The original, manual scoreboard at the Calcutta High Court end of the ground has given way to a modern-day electronic score screen.
A traditional, hand-operated one has, though, made an appearance in what used to be the Ranji Stand, now strangely renamed after an obscure non-cricketer.
The stands reflected a sea of blue tee-shirts in an overt sign of solidarity with the home side.
Shubman Gill as usual had the crowd gasping with his classy cover drives and on-drives.
He also stepped out to the tall left-arm medium pacer Marco Jansen to smack him for six to long-on. But the left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj, replacing Jansen, cut short a burgeoning innings with a ball that turned sharply to beat Gill's outside edge and tickle the bails.
The much-improved Maharaj, quite notably, gave away only three runs an over in his quota of 10, thereby to his great credit containing the dangerous Kohli and Shreyas Iyer.
Pleasing to the eye, Iyer commenced cautiously, his strike rate a bit concerning to begin with. But the Indian venture, admittedly, needed a degree of stabilising at 93 for two, notwithstanding the run rate of nearly nine an over.
Having taken a good look at the bowling, he launched into lofted drives fetching boundaries. He also hooked Jansen for four, not to mention thumping the left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi for a straight six.
As Iyer gathered momentum, Kohli, who started briskly, retreated into an anchor's role.
However, come twilight in the day/night spectacle and the master resumed a twinkling array of strokes.
He pulled off-spinner Markram for a four and came down the track to Ngidi to procure as many past mid-on.
The third wicket realised a significant 134 run partnership.
Iyer went past Kohli in terms of run rate. But attempting to hit across the line to a three-quarter length delivery, he skied Ngidi to mid-on. 77 off 87 balls was valuable input.
Thereafter, KL Rahul disappointed; and Suryakumar Yadav, albeit in circumstances of not enjoying the luxury to get his eye in, failed to live up to the crowd's great expectation -- as testified by the rousing reception he received as he stepped out to bat.
Shamsi was expensive, but he troubled batsmen, too; and he collected Suryakumar's scalp, when the batter gloved a switch hit and Quinton de Kock behind the stumps pulled off an acrobatic legside catch.
The left-handed Ravindra Jadeja, then, compensated with a flurry of fluent shots for a 15-ball unbeaten 29.
There was noticeably greater assistance to spinners than quicker bowlers, particularly at the pavilion side of the pitch.
Maharaj proved this. Jadeja surpassed him with flattering figures of five for 33; while Kuldeep Yadav, operating from the less bountiful end, captured two for seven – with an economy rate of 1.35.
Mohammed Shami, playing at home, was again in his element. He finished with two for 18.