Virat Kohli equalled the record for most centuries scored in one-day internationals, drawing level with compatriot and India legend Sachin Tendulkar on 49 as the Cricket World Cup hosts crushed South Africa in Kolkata.
It had been billed as a close game between two favourites, but Kohli helped set a total of 326-5 before South Africa were skittled by Ravindra Jadeja and co for just 83.
Kohli, batting on his 35th birthday, came to the crease in the sixth over with the score 62-1 following the dismissal of Rohit Sharma. On a tricky pitch that slowed up throughout the Indian innings, Kohli combined perfect placement of the ball with quick running between the wickets to marshall the side through the middle overs as wickets fell at the other end.
He accelerated in the final 10 overs, bringing up his hundred from 119 deliveries with a single off Kagiso Rabada in the 48th over, helping India pass the 300 mark. He took just 277 innings to draw level with Tendulkar who, in comparison, needed 452 knocks to reach his 49th ton.
The Indian batting sensation finished the innings on 101 not out, having earlier surpassed Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara to become the third-highest run-getter in ICC World Cups, and set Eden Gardens erupting in delight as he reached the milestone.
Kohli has been chasing the record for a while; he was dismissed for 88 at Mumbai’s Wankhade Stadium by Sri Lanka last Thursday having previously made 95 while chasing against New Zealand in Dharamsala.
The 35-year-old gave an interview at the halfway stage of the match describing his record-equalling century as “the stuff of dreams”.
“Every opportunity to play for India is a big one and to do this on my birthday in front of a huge crowd is the stuff of dreams.” he said, “It is something you dream about as a child. I am just happy to help the team as much as possible.”
Kohli added: “It was a wicket that was a bit tricky to bat on. So we got a great start and when I got in my job was to keep the momentum. After the powerplay the pitch slowed down and the ball started gripping so my role was different. We want to string together a big partnership and bat to the end.
“We were not thinking we would get to 326 but that’s what happens when you dig deep and take the game to the final few overs.
“Me and Shreyas [Iyer] had a lot of practice sessions before the Asia Cup. We said that this was the partnership to take centre stage though the middle overs. We are comfortable rotating the strike against the spinners and putting the loose balls away so credit to him.
“It is well above par because it was not easy to get hold of in the middle overs. We have to work hard but get a few breakthroughs and the pressure starts to mount. We need to start well with the new ball.”
South Africa’s chase of 327 began shakily as they lost half their side cheaply for 40 runs inside 14 overs as Jadeja (5-33) and Mohammed Shami (2-18) wreaked havoc before the Proteas fell to only their second defeat, dismissed for 83 in 27.1 overs.
Jadeja was the pick of the bowlers, shattering the stumps of three batsmen, while Mohammed Siraj (1-11) and Kuldeep Yadav (2-7) also played their part in the big win.
Kohli’s unbeaten 101 contained 10 fours and left him level with Indian great Sachin Tendulkar on 49 one-day international hundreds as he continued his superb form by taking his tally past 500 runs in the tournament.
He dropped anchor in a solid third-wicket stand of 134 with Shreyas Iyer, who hit 77 with seven fours and two sixes, before making his ton in the 49th over as India finished with 326-5 on a slow Kolkata wicket with late hitting by Jadeja (29 not out).
Both teams have qualified for the semi-finals and Sunday’s game was touted as a dress rehearsal for the title clash later this month and it was India who took control early and set up their eighth successive victory.
They elected to bat first after winning the toss and took advantage of some wayward pace bowling by Marco Jansen to make a blazing start but skipper Rohit Sharma fell for a 24-ball 40 as he looked to launch first-change Kagiso Rabada over mid-off.
After reaching 91-1 in the powerplay, the hosts lost opener Shubman Gill (23) to an unplayable delivery from Keshav Maharaj in the 11th over as South Africa brought the run-rate under control with spin.
Additional reporting by Reuters