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Sunday , September 20 2020

Kohli mutes premature semis talks despite strong start

India captain Virat Kohli celebrates the dismissal of Australia captain Aaron Finch during the Cricket World Cup match between Australia and India at The Oval in London on June 9. (AP)

Washout could leave SA WC hopes down the drain

SOUTHAMPTON, England, June 10, (RTRS): South Africa’s hopes of a semifinal place at the Cricket World Cup appear to have been washed out along with their fixture against the West Indies at the Rose Bowl on Monday.

 The ‘no result’ has given them a first point of the competition from four matches, but they likely needed double that in order to compete for the knockout phase. West Indies now have three points from three games.

 After being sent in to bat under heavy skies, South Africa laboured to 29 for two from 7.3 overs before persistent rain throughout the day ensured there would be no more play.

 Seamer Sheldon Cottrell (2-18 in 4 overs) removed Hashim Amla (6) and Aiden Markram (5), both edged behind the wicket, but opener Quinton de Kock (17 not out) looked in good touch before the rain came.

 It is more bad luck for the South Africans, who have endured injuries to key bowlers Dale Steyn and Lungi Ngidi, and lost their opening three matches to England, Bangladesh and India.

 Rain had been predicted in Southampton, with the match the second of the tournament to be washed out after Sri Lanka versus Pakistan was abandoned without a ball being bowled in Bristol.

 West Indies are next in action on Friday against hosts England at the same venue, while South Africa meet Afghanistan a day later at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff.

Meanwhile, India made quite a statement with their clinical victory against holders Australia but captain Virat Kohli is not entertaining any premature thoughts or taking a place in the semifinals of the World Cup for granted.

India have won both ways in their first two matches, expertly pulling off a chase in their tournament opener against South Africa before astutely defending a 350-plus total against Australia.

They ticked almost every box in Sunday’s mouth-watering clash at the Oval where Kohli and his top order colleagues fired in unison, their bowlers troubled Australian batsmen, and they looked pretty sharp on the field too. Kohli was naturally pleased with the strong start but dismissed suggestions that India were now cruising to the last four.

“No, I think in my opinion it’s too early to decide that,” the 30-year-old said.

“I think after about six games we’ll be in a better position to know where we stand in the tournament, where we stand in the table, but we couldn’t have asked for a better start against two strong sides.”

Currently ranked second in ODI, India began their World Cup campaign after everyone else against a South African side playing their third match on Wednesday.

They face New Zealand and Pakistan in their next two matches and take on hosts England at Edgbaston on June 30.

“The good thing is we’re playing all strong sides up front, so as I mentioned in Mumbai before we left, if we do well in the first phase, we’ll be in a better position to reach the semifinals,” Kohli said.

“From that point of view, we have to be at the best, at the top of our game, and precisely what we’ve done in the two games, and that’s why we’ve won both.” Hardik Pandya also gave a good account of his pinch-hitting ability against Australia when the all-rounder, promoted ahead of the likes of K.L. Rahul and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, smashed 48 off 27 balls to help India past the 300-mark.

“In the past, sometimes he tried too hard, but I think what this IPL (Indian Premier League) has done for his batting is that he knows that he can clear the boundary whenever he wants,” Kohli said.

“So he’s not trying to over-hit the ball and he’s just timing the ball so well.

“When you know that you can clear the boundary and you necessarily don’t need to make anything happen, the bowler is under pressure because he needs to get it right.

“That’s the most amazing place to be in, and I think he’s going through that.”

Sunday’s defeat by India not only broke Australia’s 10-match winning streak but also confirmed that last year’s ball-tampering scandal is not forgotten and has followed the reigning champions to the World Cup in England.

The fiasco left devastation in its wake in Australia where heads rolled, sponsors withdrew and the team culture was flayed.

Steve Smith and David Warner, key protagonists in the Cape Town scandal, served one-year bans, only returning to international cricket at the World Cup.

However, the team looked scarred at the Oval, where skipper Aaron Finch, elevated after Smith was stripped of the captaincy, had to rebut suggestions of more ball-tampering.

Social media went into overdrive after video footage showed spinner Adam Zampa putting his hand into his pocket before rubbing the ball prior to bowling the 24th over.

“I haven’t seen the photos, but I know that he has hand warmers in his pocket,” Finch said after his team’s first defeat in its third match at the tournament.

“I honestly haven’t seen them, so I can’t comment too much on it. But I know for a fact that he has hand warmers every game.”

A teary-eyed Smith had sought forgiveness for the scandal that took place on his watch, but opposing fans are clearly not ready to forget.

Both Smith and Warner have been jeered since they landed in England and the former captain had a particularly tough time fielding near the Oval’s Vauxhall End boundary when a section of the predominantly Indian crowd started chanting “Cheater! Cheater!”.

India captain Virat Kohli gestured to the fans to stop booing and later apologised to Smith for their behaviour.

Smith top-scored for Australia with a near run-a-ball 69 but Warner’s 56, at a strike rate of just 66.66, nearly 30 below his ODI career average, suggested he was still carrying some scars.

Known for his explosive strokeplay, the former vice-captain, who had elbow surgery in January, has been nearly unrecognisable in his three innings so far, playing the role of accumulator rather than aggressor.

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