India brushed aside the challenge posed by Sri Lanka with the confidence of a side that already knew their semi-final berth was secure. They won their last match in the qualifying process in the most dismissive manner, by seven wickets.
Rohit Sharma, with KL Rahul cruising in his wake, struck his fifth century of the tournament, the first batsman to do this in a World Cup. The eeyorish response to Sharma’s stunning record is that he must have used up his quota of runs and that the law of averages must dictate that he fails soon. This notion was once presented to Don Bradman, who was in a rich vein of form at the time. He responded that “I don’t believe in the law of averages” before striding out to hit another double century.
India’s target was 265, which was more than England had to chase against Sri Lanka at Headingley a couple of weeks ago. It transpired, as defeated captains often deduce, that this was about 100 runs short. Sharma began with a succession of silky strokes without a hint of violence; he timed the ball and placed it with such precision that often he did not even consider running, which may suit him. Sharma gives the impression that he does not like to waste any energy while at the crease. His century came in 94 balls; he barely missed any of them.
Rahul could not quite match his partner’s strike rate but he was equally elegant in his regal progress towards his century, his first in a World Cup, which he reached in 109 deliveries. Both were severe on Sri Lanka’s solitary spinner, Dhananjaya de Silva, and the notion that batting second on these dry surfaces is always a major disadvantage was emphatically put on hold.
Both openers departed soon after reaching their hundreds, which allowed another big crowd to witness a little gem from Kohli. The match ended with 39 balls to spare to allow India plenty of time to watch the game at Old Trafford, which would decide the semi-final pairings. On this form they may not be too bothered who they play.
But for Angelo Mathews the match would have been a grim non-event. Once again he rescued a faltering Sri Lanka innings. After winning the toss his side had slumped to 55 for four, with MS Dhoni having a hand in all the dismissals. There were three catches for him off the faster bowlers and a stumping off Ravindra Jadeja, who had been given his first opportunity in this World Cup. Hence there was only a little scope to admire Avishka Fernando, one of the few youngsters to make a mark in this tournament. As ever Jasprit Bumrah was the outstanding Indian bowler, probing and pacy at the start and delivering perfect yorkers at will at the end. He is Kohli’s jewel and must be the first man on his teamsheet.
Mathews produced a similar innings to the one he played against England here, at the start exhibiting the requisite, world-weary patience to avoid a complete collapse, then expanding his repertoire of shots, firstly in partnership with Lahiru Thirimanne and then De Silva. Mathews hit a century from 115 deliveries which included two sixes. One of them was extraordinary since it came for the leading edge of his bat against Jadeja yet the ball still cleared the fielder at long-on.
This was a gross injustice for Jadeja but the left-arm spinner still assembled some highly respectable figures. He might yet play a significant part in this World Cup – beyond being an exceptional substitute fieldsman. If India encounter pitches that turn in their last match or two, then Jadeja with his extra pace and accuracy can be very effective. On batting paradises the attraction of mysterious wrist spinners rather than his orthodox spin is more obvious. And Jadeja can bat, though there was no need for him to stick his pads on on Saturday.