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Cricket news - India make their World Cup statement

Virat Kohli & Co. clicked nicely into gear as they went two wins on the bounce by beating Australia at the Oval

They came in after a victory, a rather comfortable one at that. Beating South Africa in Southampton had ensured that India had made their presence felt, but it was not in-your-face. England, after a slip at the start, had gone back to their machine-like efficiency in getting past 350. Even the West Indies were doing it through aggressive fast bowling, and New Zealand too by characteristically clocking up three wins on the board to settle on top of the table.

Australia had meanwhile reinforced their persona of resurgence with two straight wins. India couldn't afford to fall behind, their late start in the tournament notwithstanding.

If the bowling template was ticked in the first game, Sunday (June 9) at The Oval was all about their batting. A controlled attack by their openers, with one of them scoring a hundred to lay a foundation, Kohli providing the stability thereafter and the scurry coming from Hardik Pandya and MS Dhoni. Even KL Rahul, shunted down in search of quick runs, managed a 3-ball 11 when his chance came around. They would have had no complaints about the way they got to 352.

But the job was only still half done, as Australia would go on to show. In the first game, India's batting had been tested by an inspired Kagiso Rabada. Here, the bowlers had to rally around despite having a total that looked good on the board.

David Warner and Aaron Finch had got Australia off to a start identical to India's in the first 13 overs until Finch's run-out. Steve Smith negated the boos that welcomed him with a smart fifty, and even Usman Khawaja had shown some spunk while Glenn Maxwell gave India a scare from the moment he came out and crunched a clean on-drive against India's best pacer. For the four overs that he was in, Maxwell provided India with their only challenge of the day after Khawaja tore into Kuldeep Yadav. A six-over period between the 33rd and 39th saw India give away 63 runs, when Australia flipped straight out of slumber to sprint. The balance could have been tilted here.

Based on comparisons up to this exact stage, there had been little to choose between the two sides. Both teams saw their first-change bowlers (Nathan Coulter-Nile and Pandya) releasing the pressure built up in the opening spell. Neither team's spinners were able to reverse the run pile-up or hit back with wickets in the middle overs even though Yuzvendra Chahal clearly out-bowled his counterpart Adam Zampa in the larger context of the match.

But what India had here today, was a little bit of luck and Bhuvneshwar. They had won the toss, getting use of the best batting conditions, and the pitch while never really wearing out over the course of the match, chose to show up at just the right moment. Steve Smith was trapped lbw (on review) by one that kept low and came back in. Bhuvneshwar was good enough to do it once again in the same over, and get Marcus Stoinis to effectively end Australia's fight.

India's recent loss to Australia at home was their first series defeat in four years. Rohit Sharma had chosen to disregard that series having much impact on their World Cup game. It was true, for it came in different conditions and with both teams going through a small churn of change since with personnel added, and dropped. But that loss had hurt Kohli, the captain. It was his first defeat at home, and it meant that India headed into the World Cup, on the back of an embarrassing reverse at home. And it came through when he spoke about the relevance of Sunday's win.

"Look, we were more motivated to win today because of the fact that we lost the series in India, being 2-0 up, and there was no Mitchell Starc, either. And yes, the results in the past, we had to make sure that against this side, we win all the moments, the crucial moments. Once you let your foot off the pedal then they will capitalise because they're always looking to be on top of the opposition. So very, very pleased with this win," he said after the game.

The win acts as a comeback against recent results, as Kohli puts it. But it is also against the defending champions and the undisputed superstar of Cricket World Cups. And though not many needed a reminder of India being among the leading contenders for the title, this win would have ensured just why that's the case.

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