When your apparatus is as vast as Indian cricket’s is, when your machine is as moneyed, when your stars are supernovas, and your reserve players the envy of much of the cricketing world (how many teams would happily leave a Mohammed Shami or even Axar Patel unused?), expectations are that you are at least occasionally sublime.
In the first Asia Cup match between these sides, Pakistan didn’t quite leave the India batting order bruised; 266 may well have been a defendable score. But when three Pakistan quicks scythe through the top order and finish with 10 wickets between them, this is a fire that tends to use up all the oxygen. As a species, Pakistan fast bowlers tend towards incandescence. In the nine rainy days that followed that initial skirmish, it was not hard to wonder. As blessed as this India top order is, can they really handle all that heat?
In Colombo, across two afternoons, Pakistan’s quicks surged in, and during parts of India’s innings, it was as if this thought that had never even entered the India batters’ minds. Shubman Gill had two tough chances missed off the bowling of Naseem Shah early, but remained defiant, taking down Shaheen Shah Afridi dramatically and decisively. When he went at Afridi, balls flew like his bat was spring loaded (at one of the favourite hunting grounds of the original owner of the mythological spring-loaded bat, for those who still remember the nineties).
Rohit Sharma was less convincing, struggling at length to so much as lay bat on Naseem. But when there is moisture in the pitch, and the seam is hard and new, this is also what senior opening batters do. They stay there through the famine, sometimes because of good fortune, and await more plentiful times. When the early swing disappeared, and his eye was in, Rohit exploded into life too. Against Shadab Khan, whose full tosses and half-trackers were as clusters of ripe mangoes weighing the whole branch down, Rohit gorged on three sixes and two fours in the space of five deliveries.
In Virat Kohli and KL Rahul‘s partnership, India’s batting found full, productive expression. This was run-making that had been studiously conceived, perfectly engineered, and relentlessly honed – inefficiencies stamped out, breakdowns accounted for by multiple redundancies. They didn’t need Hardik Pandya, one of the best hitters in the game, to get to 356.
Separately, both Kohli and Rahul are blessed with timing, and have exquisite wrists. When they are flowing, they are beautiful to watch.
But together, their 233-run unbeaten stand had an industrial quality. They ran the fast twos with precision, scored off even the good balls, rarely failed to send the bad ones screaming to boundary, strode swiftly to their fifties, and even faster to their tons, the way modern batters are supposed to. At times, an ailing Pakistan attack seemed less like opposition, more like factory workers feeding in the raw materials that the Kohli-Rahul machine was turning into neatly-packaged runs.
An attack with talents such as Jasprit Bumrah and Kuldeep Yadav will rarely fail to be fun, and still, the way in which they choked the Pakistan response, and turned dot balls into wickets also brought to mind a dismissal production line. Where balls rocketed off India bats, Pakistan were trying to heave them over the boundary, and frequently failing.
As with Rahul’s innings, this was Bumrah’s first spell after coming back from a long injury hiatus. Their reintegration was seamless. Rahul 111 not out off 106, Kohli having made 122 off 94 in his company; Bumrah swung the ball at pace, bowled a maiden, took the first wicket, and went for just 3.6 in each of his five overs. This was before Kuldeep tore through the middle and lower orders, taking 5 for 25. Their not wasting time bowling Pakistan out (their opposition did not send out the injured Haris Rauf or Naseem Shah to bat), was in itself an efficiency – India have to play Sri Lanka the next day.
All this is not to say India’s men’s team has no problems. In their last series at home, they lost 2-1 to Australia.
But the way they played in this match, they made it seem like their problems are like a wonky wheel on your supermarket trolley, while there is a hurricane going on in another part of the world. Sri Lanka, for one, might struggle to put to put together a partnership where both batters can comfortably hit a six.
With this 228-run win ahead of a home World Cup, India had the engines roaring, their furnaces at full blast, their Star Destroyers in hyperdrive. They dispatched an off-colour and depleted Pakistan with awesome precision.