Those who are familiar with the etymology of the English language word “juggernaut” will know it has its roots in Sanskrit. It is, therefore, perhaps an appropriate term to use to describe the seemingly unstoppable force of India at this year’s Cricket World Cup.
The host nation’s dominant 70-run victory over New Zealand in Wednesday’s semi-final marked the team’s 25th one-day international victory this year as well – their most in a single calendar year – and was helmed by Virat Kohli’s record 50th ODI century and Mohammed Shami’s 7-57 with the ball.
Shreyas Iyer clubbed 105 from just 70 balls too as India racked up 397-4 batting first from their 50 overs in Mumbai, but the influence of captain Rohit Sharma on the performances both in this tournament and throughout the year should not be underestimated.
The 36-year-old opener, appointed India’s white-ball captain in December 2021 and Test skipper two months later, set the tone for the innings after winning the toss with a 29-ball 47 and as far as former England captain Nasser Hussain is concerned, Sharma deserves all the praise for India’s impressive run to Sunday’s World Cup final.
“India have got pretty much every box ticked,” Hussain told Sky Sports Cricket. “They’re a very dangerous side, given the amount of players they have in good form – and with an excellent captain in Rohit.
“Today is quite a telling point for India and what their cricket is all about. They want to win and win World Cups, but they also love personal milestones.
“The headlines tomorrow will be about Kohli, about Shreyas, about Shami. But the genuine hero of this Indian side, the man who has changed the culture, is Rohit Sharma.
“It’s one thing coming in the group stage, but can you do it again, can you play fearless cricket in a semi-final? Their skipper went out there and showed everyone, showed his dressing room that they’re going to carry on in exactly the same way.”
Not that India had everything their own way, as Daryl Mitchell’s 134 from 119 balls, plus his 181 third-wicket partnership with skipper Kane Williamson (69), kept New Zealand in the hunt for a significant part of the reply.
Ultimately, however, the 2015 and 2019 runners-up were denied a third-consecutive appearance in the showpiece game as Shami got stuck into the batting line-up to put India within touching distance of a third World Cup triumph, and Hussain felt the target of 398 was always just beyond the Black Caps’ capabilities.
“India were tested,” Hussain said. “But I always felt, with a target of 398, given the Indian bowling attack, it would’ve had to have gone seriously pear-shaped [for them to lose].
“I know Daryl Mitchell played well, but the moment you got down to the lower order, with [Jasprit] Bumrah and Kuldeep [Yadav] still to come [bowling for India], it was just asking too much.”
Morgan: Shami adds value to India’s strength
It did not seem as if much would be able to upstage Kohli passing the great Sachin Tendulkar’s record of one-day international centuries as he made 117 on the home ground of the man affectionately known as ‘The Little Master’.
Shami, however, managed that as he earned the player of the match accolade thanks to a devastating 9.5 over spell with the ball which proved to be pivotal in New Zealand’s downfall.
That seven-wicket haul took Shami to 23 wickets for the tournament so far and above Australia’s Adam Zampa, whose side face South Africa in the other semi-final on Thursday, at the top of the leading wicket-taker standings.
England’s 2019 World Cup-winning captain Eoin Morgan faced the right-arm seamer on numerous occasions during his career and was impressed with what he saw from Shami, particularly as his two crucial wickets when Mitchell and Williamson were looking well set swung the match firmly in India’s favour.
“I’ve faced him over the years, and you would have to say his level of accuracy he continues to produce brings a level of predictability, but also when you’re channelling your focus in on doing one single thing it allows very little margin for error,” Morgan told Sky Sports Cricket.
“He charges in, attacks the stumps from over and around the wicket…but the level of control he has shown throughout this tournament to move the ball off the seam and in the air has been great to admire.
“Seven for 57 in a one-day international is unheard of, particularly in a World Cup knock-out game where there is a huge amount of pressure on him.
“He comes on, goes bang-bang, and all of a sudden has them back in the game and just does it with ease. To have someone like that at your disposal for Rohit Sharma adds more value to the strength of India.”
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