Record-breaking Rohit leads India’s charge to the top with Sri Lanka win

Record-breaking Rohit leads India’s charge to the top with Sri Lanka win
Indian openers Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul during the match at Headingley, Leeds, Britain on July 6, 2019 (REUTERS)
Updated 07 July 2019

Record-breaking Rohit leads India’s charge to the top with Sri Lanka win

Record-breaking Rohit leads India’s charge to the top with Sri Lanka win
  • India’s next challenge is now a semifinal against New Zealand, which has a long history of losing semifinals
  • A clash in the final with hosts England would provide the perfect end to the tournament for fans and broadcasters

KARACHI: Tournament favorites India wrapped up a dominant run in the round-robin stage of the ICC World Cup 2019 to top the table with a thorough out-classing of Sri Lanka at Leeds on Saturday. On a day of centuries, Angelo Matthews’ superb effort after a top-order collapse only served to provide enough runs for both Indian openers, KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma, to get their hundreds too. For the tournament’s leading scorer, Rohit, this was a barely believable fifth century in this tournament — a new record. 
In contrast, Sri Lanka ended a largely miserable tournament that was slightly made up by a sensational victory over hosts England, as they finished third from bottom. 
Since breaking the Indo-Pakistan duopoly in Asian cricket in the mid 90s by winning the World Cup (the last side to win it for the first time in 1996), Sri Lanka has always managed to punch above its weight, particularly in clashes with its regional rivals. Its rivalry with India carried the political weight of the fallout of the Tamil Tiger rebellion in Sri Lanka and India’s actual and perceived roles in that. More broadly, it also carried enough sporting bite as Sri Lanka persistently looked to be the David to India’s inevitable Goliath.
In the late 2000s, as Sri Lanka built up their best side perhaps of all time, financial reasons, broadcasting demands and changing politics saw a sudden upsurge of matches between these two sides. From playing Sri Lanka a handful of times for most of the decade, the era between 2008-2012 saw at least a third of all Indian ODIs every year being played against Sri Lanka, with a peak in 2012 where Sri Lanka matches were 58% of India’s ODI schedule. 
Cricket communities in the nascent social media era of that time churned out innumerable blogs, posts, tweets and memes on the inevitability and regularity of India-Sri Lanka matches. But then Indian cricket sought to dominate the world, its priorities shifted, and these matches almost ended. From 2015 to this year, with the exception of 9 ODIs played in 2017, this was the first time India was facing Sri Lanka. 
In the time since, Sri Lanka had seen the core of their legendary side retire, with the likes of Lasith Malinga playing out their swansong at this World Cup. Angelo Matthews had been the great Sri Lankan hope in the aftermath of all those retirements, an all-rounder with a golden touch in both innings. Yet injuries, and the persistent involvement of melodrama in Sri Lankan cricket had prevented his rise to mythical status. After a torrid, attritional innings against England that proved to be match-winning, his efforts here were equally heroic, far more fluent, but futile. Coming in after the routine Sri Lankan top order collapse at 55-4, he played one of the finest innings of his career, absorbing all the pressure and then later unleashing to give Sri Lanka a target to defend. It was never going to be enough for India’s batters.
Rohit Sharma once personally hit more runs in an innings against Sri Lanka than what they had managed here. After scoring his third consecutive hundred, he let the world know that he is in better form now than he was in those days when he was scoring 200s in ODIs. 
Indeed, as Indian cricket continues to grow across its vast people to smaller towns and villages, Rohit carries the weight of being the heir apparent of Mumbai’s continuing claim as the producer of India’s most stylish batters, a list that includes the likes of Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar. Sachin of course was also known as god, a moniker that in this current side perhaps more fittingly belongs to captain Virat Kohli. 
But if Kohli is the god, Rohit is that part of the religion that inspires its mystical elements and branches. He lacks the process-driven, peak efficiency, super focused attributes of Kohil, mostly because he seems to play like a savant who exists in a life beyond this one. He seemed to acknowledge the importance of tranquility to his approach when he said, “Every day is a new day, I start fresh, I try to think I’ve not played any ODIs [before], not gotten any hundreds in the tournament. The challenge as a sportsman is to keep your head straight.” 
But while Rohit’s shotmaking always carried the ease and artistry of mandala-creating monks, this World Cup seems to have unleashed a ruthless consistency that wasn’t always attributed to him before; he now has more centuries in this World Cup than Sachin scored in six tournaments.
All this means that India ends the tournament with a deserved spot as no.1, as their nearest rivals Australia lost to South Africa to confirm that all the other challengers carried more flaws than Kohli’s side did. Typically, Kohli sought to bat away the dominance of his side, insisting on the processes at play: “We wanted to play good cricket but didn’t expect 7-1 (seven wins, one defeat). More or less everything is set for the semis, but we don’t want to be one-dimensional. We have to turn up on the day and put in another performance. For us the opposition never matters, if we don’t play well anyone can beat us, if we play well we can beat anyone.”
India’s next challenge is now a semifinal against New Zealand, a team that has a long history of losing semifinals and which has lost to every side ranked above it in the table. A clash in the final with hosts England — who face Australia in the semifinals — would provide the perfect end for broadcasters and many fans. But for Kohli and his side, they wouldn’t really care about any of the three sides left in the tournament. They’ll only be focusing on themselves.