CHENNAI, India — Virat Kohli inspired India's recovery from a top-order batting collapse in its reply to Australia's below-par 199 all out to secure a six-wicket win for the host nation Sunday in its Cricket World Cup opener.
Kohli hit 85 off 116 balls, making the most of his reprieve after being dropped on 12 in what could have been a major setback for India's run chase.
The former skipper rallied to deliver a calmly constructed fourth-wicket stand of 165 with KL Rahul, who scored an unbeaten 97, as India reached 201-4 with 52 balls to spare in front of a passionate home crowd in Chennai.
Australia's pace attack had taken three wickets for two runs in the first two overs to leave India in a perilous position in reply before Kohli and Rahul came to the rescue in a meeting of two of the tournament favorites.
Rahul top-scored with his 115-ball innings including eight fours and two sixes. Even so, for much of the innings, he played second fiddle to Kohli, who soaked up the Australian pressure after India’s top-order collapse.
“I had taken a shower and was looking to get a break. But I had to go out to bat (at 2-3),” man-of-the-match Rahul said. “Virat said the wicket is doing a bit, so let’s bat like test cricket for a while. It wasn’t the easiest of wickets to bat on, but dew later on helped a bit.”
After winning the toss and making a positive start, Australia's batters struggled on the turning track in Chennai against India's strong spin attack. The five-time champions slumped after being 74-1 in the 17th over. Steve Smith was the top scorer with 46 and David Warner scored 41.
Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav earlier shared five wickets to wreck the Australian innings. On a spin-friendly surface, Jadeja finished with 3-28 in 10 overs, while Yadav picked up 2-42, as the duo negated Australia’s advantage of batting first.
Big-hitting opener Mitchell Marsh (0) edged Jasprit Bumrah to slip in the third over without, with Kohli holding a diving catch.
Warner and Smith stabilized the innings with a 69-run partnership for the second wicket. Warner scored 41 runs and hit six fours, but offered a return catch to Yadav just when he looked set for a big innings.
India’s spin strategy had an impact with the introduction of Ravichandran Ashwin (1-34) in the eighth over choking the scoring rate.
Smith added another 36 runs with Marnus Labuschagne, before an arm ball from Jadeja cleaned up his off-stump in the 28th over. Smith, stunned at the delivery, hit five fours in his 71-ball innings.
His dismissal triggered a batting collapse. Two overs later, Jadeja had Labuschagne caught behind and then trapped Alex Carey (0) lbw.
Australia slid from 110-2 to 119-5. Glenn Maxwell (15) and Cameron Green (8) batted sedately to stem the flow of wickets, adding 21 runs off 37 balls for the sixth wicket.
There was more to come from the Indian spinners, though. Yadav returned to bowl Maxwell in the 36th over. Three balls later, Green was caught off Ashwin as Australia crashed again, this time to 140-7.
The Australian tailenders added vital runs with the last three wickets adding 59 runs. Mitchell Starc scored 28 off 35 balls, with two fours and a six. Pat Cummins made 15 off 24. Adam Zampa gave them company while facing 20 balls.
Chasing 200 for victory, the hosts got off to a horrendous start.
Ishan Kishan chased a wide delivery in the first over and was out caught at slip off Starc for a golden duck. It was Starc’s 50th wicket in ODI World Cups.
Five balls later, Rohit Sharma was out lbw to Josh Hazlewood (3-38). The Indian skipper reviewed, but the decision stayed in Australia’s favor. Sharma was out for a six-ball duck.
Shreyas Iyer made it three ducks among the top four Indian batters, when he drove straight to cover three balls later. The scorecard now read an astonishing two runs for three wickets.
Australia could have strengthened its grip on the game but Marsh dropped Kohli in the eighth over. Kohli pulled a delivery off Hazlewood, but Marsh couldn’t complete the running catch despite making ample ground.
“It was quite early when that catch was dropped," Hazlewood said. "We certainly felt in the game for quite a while until their partnership grew and grew. They batted us out of it. We did a reasonable job in trying to defend 200.”
It was a costly miss as Kohli and Rahul rebuilt the innings, and their partnership led India to opening its World Cup campaign with a win.
Kohli was eventually out caught at midwicket by Labuschagne off Hazlewood, but Rahul and Hardik Pandya (11 not out) finished the job.
“Obviously our total was under par," Hazlewood said. “We went from 110 for 2 to 200 (199) all out. That’s where we went wrong.”
India next plays Afghanistan in Delhi on Wednesday, and Australia faces South Africa in Lucknow.
All 10 teams have had one game in the six-week, which started last Thursday with New Zealand trouncing defending champion England in a small measure of revenge for the narrow result in the 2019 final.
New Zealand leads on net run-rate from South Africa, which posted a World Cup record total of 428-5 in a 102-run victory over 1996 champion Sri Lanka in a high-scoring game at Delhi on Saturday. Aiden Markram's century from 49 balls for South Africa was the fastest hundred ever posted in the ODI World Cup.