Asia Cup: India thrash Pakistan by 228 runs after Kohli, Rahul tons and Kuldeep fifer
Rahul makes a memorable century, along with Kohli, on comeback helping India rout Pakistan by 228 runs.
COLOMBO: Had it not been for the last-minute injury to Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul would not have found a place in the playing XI against Pakistan in their Super Four match here at the R Premadasa Stadium, Colombo. The team sheet shared by India captain Rohit Sharma at the toss at least suggested so. The No. 4 position, where Rahul eventually came out to bat, was marked for Iyer while the former was at No. 13 on the team sheet with Suryakumar Yadav being the 12th man.
As if that uncertainty was not enough, inclement weather further prohibited Rahul from expressing himself despite taking the field after a gap of four months. When he was unbeaten on 17, skies opened up forcing match officials to suspend the game on Sunday. India was 147/2 after 24.1 overs with Virat Kohli also not out on 8.
The only solace was the fact that the contest had a reserve day as announced by the Asian Cricket Council a few days ago giving Rahul hope to carry on from where he had left on Sunday evening. The rain god, however, attempted to spoil his and Team India's plan as it poured heavily minutes before the resumption, forcing the ground staff to cover the entire ground. The cloudy sky and consistent drizzling might have again made Rahul and other Indian batters restless but unlike Sunday, the weather showed mercy allowing the play to resume at 4:40 PM.
Once Rahul and Virat took the field, they showed no mercy as the duo sent Pakistan bowlers on a leather hunt. While openers Rohit (56) and Shubman Gill (58) had added 121 for the first wicket, Rahul and Virat remained unconquered. They stitched together a 233-run partnership for the third wicket. Kohli was unbeaten on 122 off 94 while Rahul was not out on 111 off 106 as India posted 356/2. Virat also became the quickest to reach 13,000 runs in ODIs. The century was also his 47th in the ODIs, only two behind the legendary Sachin Tendulkar.
Injury to Haris Rauf didn't help Pakistan's cause either as the pacer, who bowled five overs on Sunday, didn't take the field on Monday. "He was subsequently taken for a precautionary MRI, which revealed no tear. He is under the observation of the team's medical panel," a statement from the Pakistan Cricket Board read. Babar Azam and Co suffered another injury scare when pacer Naseem Shah left the field holding his wrist. He could not complete the penultimate over of the Indian innings and Iftikhar Ahmed had to bowl the remaining four deliveries. The target proved too big for Pakistan to chase down as they managed 128/8 in 32 overs. Rauf and Naseem didn't come out to bat as India won by a huge margin of 228 runs. Wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav claimed a five-for (5/25) while Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya and Shardul Thakur claimed a wicket each.
Earlier, returning after a long injury lay-off and a subsequent thigh surgery, 31-year-old Rahul did find a place in the 17-member squad for the Asia Cup but was left back at the National Cricket Academy (NCA), Bengaluru even as the team flew for Sri Lanka for the continental tournament. The reason as stated by the chairman of selectors, Ajit Agarkar, was a fresh niggle. After missing two matches, the wicketkeeper-batter joined the squad in Colombo. He was also named in the Indian squad of 15 for the 2023 ODI World Cup.
Given his long absence from the field, questions were raised on his return to the team right before the World Cup. This is despite the fact that his performance in the 50-over format has been good in the recent past before injury sidelined him. This year he didn't exactly dazzle with the willow but scored two half-centuries in the previous six ODIs before the match against Pakistan to stay in the hunt for a place in the World Cup squad.
But something was missing and even Rahul knew it. For a batter, who had made his ODI debut with a century, not reaching the three-figure mark for more than two years would have been frustrating. He last hit a century on March 26, 2021, when he made 108 against England in Pune. Since then he had played 17 ODIs scoring four half-centuries but the ton was looking elusive before it came against the arch-rivals.
Though Rahul has played maximum matches as an opener it's No. 4 or No. 5 where he has scored the most runs with an impressive batting average so far. At No. 4, where he batted on Monday, his numbers are the most impressive. In 10 matches he batted in that position, he has scored 352 runs including two centuries at an average of 58.66. He is also equally good at No 5 where he has scored 742 runs from 18 matches including a century with an average of 53.
The recent show by the Karnataka batter might relieve Indian team management of a few worries, especially the injury concerns that have given it sleepless nights over the past few months. With Ishan Kishan looking in good touch and Iyer apparently having only back spasm, Rahul's form may also lead to a healthy competition among batters giving the management plenty of options in the middle order.