India confirmed the top spot in their group, took their winning streak in World Cup matches to nine, their longest and now only behind the great Australian run between 1999 and 2011, and also maintained their record of bowling oppositions out in this World Cup, claiming their 50th wicket in five matches in the 49th over of Ireland’s innings. Ireland scored the highest score against India in this World Cup, William Porterfield and Paul Stirling registered the best partnership – 89 – against them, Niall O’Brien came within one run of the best individual score against their unbeaten opponents, but India’s excellent offspin bowling and aggressive captaincy restricted them to 259, well below par on a flat pitch, small Seddon Park boundaries and given Ireland’s weak bowling. Shikhar Dhawan, with his second hundred this World Cup, and Rohit Sharma knocked the runs off with ease.
Porterfield and Stirling attacked the Indian quicks with gusto, reaching 57 in nine overs before R Ashwin dragged them back. A period of quick overs and slow runs followed, and when Niall O’Brien began to pull Ireland back out, Ashwin came back to start another slide. Ireland went from 206 for 3 to their eventual middling total. This was the first time any batting side tested India. Unlike, say South Africa, India refused to go on the defensive. Ravindra Jadeja didn’t have a great day, but Suresh Raina filled in superbly. He took out Ed Joyce to go with Ashwin’s scalps of Stirling and the in-form Andy Balbirnie. Between them Ashwin and Raina bowled 20 overs for 78 runs. That’s where the match turned.
When spin came on in the 10th over, with the run rate over six and no wicket down, you would have forgiven a few other established captains defensive fields. MS Dhoni, the best captain of spin in limited-overs cricket, had a slip, a leg slip, and men saving singles even after the Powerplay was over. It also asked a lot of the bowlers. Anything half bad was bound to go for boundaries. Jadeja was only half bad in the 14th over, and was taken for a four and a six. Dhoni had no qualms taking him off and going to Raina immediately.
Even before Raina came on, though, Stirling tried to chip Ashwin over cover. Ashwin had bowled until then 17 balls for 12 runs, giving nothing away. It required Stirling to manufacture something. He tried, but could not open the face enough, and holed out to long-off. Now Raina and Ashwin began to run through their overs quite economically. The pressure was palpable. Dhoni could read the batsmen’s minds. He told Raina Joyce was under pressure and looking for a big hit. Raina stayed accurate. Joyce looked for a forceful back-foot shot to a full ball. Bowled.
Overs flew by. When Niall O’Brien took risks against Rohit Sharma in the 30th over and hit two fours, India had bowled the 15 preceding overs for 45 runs and surely in under 45 minutes. The first sign of pace – Mohit Sharma – in 23 overs meant Ireland felt obliged to push the scoring. Except that Mohit didn’t provide any pace, and Porterfield fell to a slower ball. This wicket was as much Mohit’s as the spinners’ who had created the pressure.
Niall O’Brien wasn’t done yet, though. In the Powerplay he mounted another attack, and India were tested yet again by the 61-run stand between him and Balbirnie. And again Ashwin provided the answers, getting Balbirnie on the sweep in the 39th over. Mohammed Shami chipped in immediately with Kevin O’Brien’s wicket, and Niall O’Brien found himself under pressure again amid the falling wickets. When he moved across the stumps to try to hit Shami into the leg side, he chipped straight to square leg in the 43rd over. It was now going to be difficult for Ireland to bat out the overs. They couldn’t.
To turn this chase into a contest, Ireland needed early wickets. Dhawan provided them two opportunities, but John Mooney and Porterfield dropped him on 5 and 10 respectively. Now Dhawan has a sensational record when he is dropped. Even against South Africa he was dropped by Hashim Amla. At 174 he and Rohit put together India’s biggest opening stand in World Cups, and their partnership aggregate soared to 1760 runs, the fourth-highest for India.
Dhawan moved to No. 2 on the runs list this World Cup, second behind Kumar Sangakkara. Once he reached the fifty Dhawan accelerated even as Rohit fell to a somewhat lazy dab, playing Stuart Thompson on. Dhawan went from 50 off 54 to 96 off 74 before bringing up the hundred with the 84th ball he faced and getting out to the 85th. However, India needed only 70 at that time, and got them without drama.