At about the half-way mark of India’s batting innings, Mustafizur Rahman was brought back for a second spell to see if he could lasso in India’s openers. It was now the beginning of the 24th over and at this point, Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul had already added 147 runs—India’s highest opening stand of this World Cup—to the scoreboard at Edgbaston. In ran the man they call Fizz, Bangladesh’s best left-arm pacer firing in a quick and overpitched ball at Sharma.
It’s hard to tell if Mustafizur got to see what took place at the other end of his follow-through. But had he looked up and watched Sharma’s stroke, there’s a great chance he would have inwardly appreciated it too. Standing casually in his crease and watching the line of the ball until the very last moment, Sharma let his gently swishing bat loft the ball directly over the bowler’s head. The ball then hung in the air for a few heavy seconds and floated behind Edgbaston’s sightscreen.
It was the kind of six cricketers tend to hit in cola advertisements. It was the kind of six that commentators tend to label as ‘shot of the day’. But this Sharma six, the fifth of his morning in Birmingham, was more on the lines of ‘shot of the tournament’. Those runs took him to 87, putting him on the verge of a bouquet of World Cup records.
Sharma went on to claim all of them. Most hundreds at a single World Cup, four, tied with Kumar Sangakkara from 2015. Check. Most runs by any player at this edition so far, 544, in turn making him the only Indian apart from Tendulkar to cross the 500-run mark at a World Cup. Check and check. And, of significance to not just the record books but this match as well was the fact that Sharma and Rahul had added 180 runs by the 30thover, India’s highest-ever opening stand at a World Cup. Check.
But in that very over, the 30th, Sharma’s fluency stammered for a moment against Soumya Sarkar’s wily medium pace and he was gone. Caught off a mistimed heave at covers for 104, Sharma’s second hundred in three days on this very ground had come to an end, and it was now down to India’s much talked about weakness, their middle-order, to make an incredible half into an incredible full. If you consider a total of 134 runs for the next eight Indian wickets as incredible, then yes, India’s middle-order achieved its target too.
But perhaps a target of 315 was always going to be enough for Bangladesh, a team that has scaled 300-plus run chases on only four occasions in their cricket history. One of those, though, was at this very World Cup against the West Indies where Shakib Al Hasan’s unbeaten 124 helped overthrow their highest ever target of 322 in the 42nd over. Shakib—already in the middle of a sensational World Cup campaign—then was going to be key, and till he was around Bangladesh always had a whiff. Shakib played with firm hands and soft hands, firing his way to his sixth score this World Cup of over fifty runs.
The innings was worth 66, but like in Sharma’s knock, Shakib too passed a number of milestones. On 24, he became the first Bangladeshi to cross 500 runs at a World Cup and had he scored three more runs, he would’ve toppled Sharma to become the World Cup’s top-scorer. But unfortunately for him, he first ran out of suitable partners and then out of defences, lobbing a simple catch to World Cup debutant Dinesh Karthik off a Hardik Pandya slower ball.
Pandya was Virat Kohli’s go-to bowler today, his variations providing three breakthroughs, all of them catches to India’s infielders. Shakib’s scalp was of course the most crucial of Pandya’s collection on this cloudy evening, pulling a blanket over Bangladesh’s semi-final hopes—and simultaneously uncovering India’s entry into the last-four—by 28 runs.
Although the margin of defeat may seem just about wide enough, at times it was a little too close for comfort. Mohammad Saifuddin, coming in at No 8, began a rampage, hitting an unbeaten 38 ball 51, but ran out of partners.
Kohli would surely have been disappointed; not so much in his bowlers but that his batsmen slipped from 180 for no loss at the 30 over mark to 314 for nine at the end of the innings. He certainly was visibly disappointed when his phenomenal run of form—five consecutive World Cup fifties—didn’t continue at Edgbaston on Tuesday. On 26, he looked to pull Mustafizur for a six just before the onset of the death overs and was caught at deep square leg.
Pandya didn’t last too long either. In the same Mustafizur over, the 39th, he pulled away from the crease as the bowler ran in, the batsman claiming that there was a problem with his bat. A new bat was delivered to him and Mustafizur ran in once again, clipping the shiny wood’s edge and Pandya was gone for a duck. In walked MS Dhoni, seeing out the double-wicket maiden without any more damage.
At the other end was Rishabh Pant, and neither Pant nor Dhoni had received positive reviews for their essays against England on Sunday. Pant was the first of the two to turn the table, having already found his touch with a flurry of shots—including a towering six off the part-time spin of Mosaddek Hossain near the media box—before Dhoni’s arrival. But Dhoni’s presence was all the reassurance he needed, for Pant cut loose in the over after the double-wicket maiden.
The first ball was slashed through point for four. The next ball was heaved over midwicket for four more. And the pistons in Pant’s motor were now moving nicely because when the bowler, Saifuddin, gave him no room whatsoever in the following ball, Pant still managed to cut him for another boundary. Pant would’ve liked a fifty for his dazzle, but was out caught on 48 trying to slog Shakib.
Dhoni looked busier on Tuesday than he did on Sunday, two sizzling cover drives in the penultimate over got India to and beyond the 300-run mark, but India couldn’t breach that mark by much as three wickets, including that of Dhoni’s, fell in Mustafizur and Bangladesh’s final over.