LONDON • If England are looking for signs of encouragement before their momentous meeting with India tomorrow, it can at least be said that Virat Kohli's team were some way below their best in maintaining their unbeaten record in the Cricket World Cup.
By a country mile, though, the sub-stellar performance on Thursday was still enough to beat a West Indies team, whose early departure was confirmed after India crushed them by 125 runs at Old Trafford.
Captain Kohli top-scored with a solid 72 to lay the foundations for the two-time world champions' 268-7 and the score was burnished by late flurries from M.S. Dhoni (56) and Hardik Pandya (46).
India need one win from their three remaining matches to book a semi-final berth, with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka still to come after the England clash tomorrow.
They are as good as there and, with Edgbaston expected to be dominated by India fans, they will relish the chance to inflict another grievous blow on the hosts' hopes.
England's chances of making the last four hang in the balance, as they need to win their remaining two matches and K.L. Rahul believes they are primed to inflict more misery in Birmingham.
Mohammed Shami's wicket haul in the two matches he has replaced the injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
The opening batsman said: "If we play the kind of cricket we've been playing, we will most probably end up on the winning side.
"Individually and as a team, we're focused on getting our plans right, executing our skills right and again it's a big game against England."
In Kohli, they have a leader whose emotive presence mirrors that of his exuberant followers in the stands and his four successive half-centuries have been a big reason for India's run so far.
Hailing his fellow batsman as inspiring, Rahul added: "That's what is great to see and the team to learn from him, and probably understand and have the same kind of passion, and go out every game wanting to do well for the country."
West Indies never looked likely to threaten India's total, once Chris Gayle had scuffed a pull to mid-on and Shai Hope was bowled by Mohammed Shami. In the two matches since he came in for the injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shami has taken eight wickets, a more than adequate replacement.
While India have done most things right to remain the only undefeated team, whether they have shored up their batting quite as convincingly since the thumb injury to Shikhar Dhawan is another matter.
All-rounder Vijay Shankar has done little in the last two matches to nail down the No. 4 slot, while Kedar Jadhav has done only marginally better, making their middle order a weak point.
In a column for the International Cricket Council, former India captain Krish Srikkanth felt the duo had "yet to fully convince".
He said: "It's fair to say that their approach needs some fine-tuning.
"Of course, the batting concerns have been papered over in the last couple of games by the bowlers so it hasn't mattered quite as much as it could have."
However, the former chief selector feels India already have the answer to their inadequacies at No. 4 - Rishabh Pant. He said: "Maybe now is a good time to get him in there against a familiar opponent."
Former England skipper Michael Vaughan echoed the same sentiments, tweeting "how he doesn't get in this team, I will never know".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE TIMES OF LONDON
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