Kohli, Rohit, Gill and India's dew diligence
Bowlers need a margin for error when they have to deal with a wet ball and India's top order gave them just that
"Yesterday when we were training, the ground was flooded with dew," Rohit Sharma said after India lost the toss in the first ODI against in Guwahati. As Sri Lanka opted to bowl, India knew the dew in the second half was going to present as big a challenge to their bowlers as the opposition batters. They knew 300 was not going to be enough; they needed something in excess of 350.
Before today, the Barsapara Cricket Stadium had hosted just one ODI: India vs West Indies in 2018. Batting first, West Indies had scored 322 for 8, and India chased it down in 42.1 overs. That further dictated the need for every Indian batter show positive intent right from the start.
And that's what they did.
The first four balls of India's innings were dots. On the fifth, Rohit got them off the mark with an off-driven four. And, there was no looking back.
Dilshan Madushanka found swing with the new ball but for some reason pulled his length back just after one over. In that, he ended up bowling short and wide. Shubman Gill took advantage of it, cutting him for three successive fours.
Gill is not among the fastest starters even in T20Is, but here he swiftly moved to 20 off 10 balls. Later in the innings, he hit a hat-trick of fours against left-arm spinner Dunith Wellalage as well.
At the other end, Rohit pulled a short ball from Kasun Rajitha for a six, which you would expect him to do any day of the week. However, two balls later, he skipped down the track and, despite Rajitha pitching it short, went ahead with yet another pull for another six.
Rohit and Gill, opening only for the second time in ODI cricket, added 143 in 19.4 overs. The platform was set for Virat Kohli to play himself in, but he chose not to.
Kohli was just six balls into his innings when he gave Dasun Shanaka the charge and flicked him through midwicket for four. He fell in the 49th over after scoring 113 off 87 balls. It felt like he was playing the anchor's role but still struck at 129.88.
During the innings break, Kohli revealed that was part of the plan: "I kind of had to bat through the innings, like I usually do in one-day cricket, but still keeping my strike rate in check [high], because we needed to get a big score as the dew is going to be a factor. I am just happy I was able to play with the tempo of the game and make sure that we got not just 340 but 370-plus."
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Apart from some wayward bowling and a placid surface - though some balls came slower off it, making it difficult to time - India were also helped by poor fielding. Sri Lanka dropped Kohli twice, on 52 and 81. There were a few misfields too.
Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul too played quick hands, scoring 28 off 24 and 39 off 29 respectively. In fact, all of India's top six had strike rates above 110. It was only the third time in ODI cricket that a team's top six achieved that.
What makes India's effort even more remarkable was the fact they were playing with a long tail - Axar Patel was slotted at No. 7, followed by four bowlers. Perhaps that's why they held back a little when Iyer got out in the 30th over. For the next 34 balls, there was no boundary.
Once Rahul ended the drought with a four in the 35th over, the next five overs saw six fours and two sixes. And even though India managed only 79 in the last ten, and 17 in the last three, the intent shown earlier meant they finished with 373 for 7, which proved to be 67 too many for Sri Lanka.
Both Rohit and Kohli had also spoken about how a big total would give their bowlers the cushion to try out how they want to bowl with a wet ball. That was in preparation for the upcoming ODI World Cup, which is to be played in India. But with the anti-dew spray seemingly doing its job, they were forced to wait for the next opportunity.
Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo