Guided by Shikhar Dhawan’s dominating century, India’s smooth eight-wicket victory over Ireland here ensured that the defending World Champions will finish at the top of Pool B.
India, who had already qualified for the quarter-finals earlier, will now play the fourth-placed Pool A team in the last eight, which is likely to be Bangladesh.
With the victory, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni also achieved unique distinction of winning nine Cup matches on the trot, equalling the great Clive Lloyd of the West Indies. Only Australia’s Ricky Ponting, with 24 wins, is ahead of them.
Despite a brilliant start, Ireland were befuddled by spinners as some clever tactics from Dhoni helped India bowl out the Associate Member team for 259 at the Seddon Park.
In reply, India had no problem chasing down the target as Dhawan scored his second hundred of the tournament, in only 84 balls, to guide the Asian team to its ninth consecutive Cup win with 13.1 overs to spare.
Openers Rohit Sharma (64) and Dhawan exploited the inexperienced Irish bowlers to strike India’s highest World Cup opening stand of 174 runs to more or less settle the matter for their side.
The partnership completely took away the game from the Irish. While Rohit hit three boundaries and sixes each in his knock, Dhawan exemplified his form by stroking 11 boundaries and five sixes in his 85-ball 100.
Vice-captain Virat Kohli (44 not out) and middle-order bat Ajinkya Rahane (33 not out) hardly broke a sweat to combine for an unbeaten 70-run third-wicket stand, helping India to their third successive victory over Ireland in as many meetings.
Earlier, it was a mixed sort of innings from Ireland who got off to a blazing start via openers William Porterfield (67) and Paul Stirling (42). However, they stuttered against spinners and from what seemed as a likely 300-plus total at one point, Ireland collapsed to being all out in the 49th over.
This is the first time ever that India have bowled out their opposition in five consecutive matches.
Electing to bat, captain Porterfield and Stirling looked in good touch as they hammered Indian pacers all over the small ground. The confident start from Ireland made Dhoni bring in third pacer Mohit Sharma (1/38) in only the fifth over.
Despite the change, Ireland still scored quite easily off the pacers, who looked impeccable in the previous four matches of the tournament. However, the Irish duo seemed to handle pace very well.
Dhoni, understanding this, brought in spinners Ravindra Jadeja (1/45) and Ravichandran Ashwin (2/38) in the ninth over onwards. The change took some time but finally yielded success in the 15th over, bringing an end to the opening-wicket partnership of 89.
Realising that the minnows were struggling against slower bowlers, Dhoni brought in part-time spinner Suresh Raina (1/40) and it immediately yielded success. Just three runs after the fall of the first wicket, Ed Joyce, who scored a sensational century against Zimbabwe in their last match, was bowled by Raina.
Seeing the ball turn and the Irish struggle against spin, the Indian skipper bowled Ashwin and Raina in tandem and the duo slowed down the run rate, which was run-a-ball till the 15th over.
The quality of the Ireland batting order showed when Niall O’Brien (75) struck two important partnerships. First, Porterfield and Niall struck a 53-run stand before Mohit broke the partnership. Next up, Niall and Andy Balbirnie (24) scored 61 for the fourth wicket to take Ireland past the 200-run mark.
Batting at 206/3 in the 39th over, Ireland looked set for a 300-plus score. But Ashwin once again came to the rescue as he broke the stand in his 10th over which proved to be the catalyst in Ireland’s collapse. From 206/3, India clinched six quick wickets to make Ireland totter at 238/9 before the last pair added 21.
Ashwin and Raina’s three wickets together in 20 overs for 78 runs and Dhoni’s acumen proved to be the difference. Shami also pitched in with 3/41 from his nine overs.