The hosts probably expected their chase to be a cakewalk on Sunday after their spin-heavy attack bundled out the five-time champions for 199 with three deliveries left in the Australian innings.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
India, however, made a shocking start to their reply with three of their top four batters falling for ducks – for the first time in an ODI – inside two overs.
Dropped on 12 by Mitchell Marsh off Josh Hazlewood, Kohli went on to make 85 as he masterminded yet another successful chase for India.
His partner in the 165-run fourth-wicket stand, KL Rahul, produced a chanceless knock of 97 not out as India reached the target in 41.2 overs.
After winning the toss, Australia slumped after being 74-1 in the 17th over.
Australia would be particularly unhappy with their batting as no one reached 50 in the low-scoring match although David Warner (41) and Steve Smith (46) got decent starts.
Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav 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.
Mitchell Marsh (0) edged Jasprit Bumrah to slip in the third over with Kohli holding a diving catch.
David Warner and Steve Smith stabilised 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 armball 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 opened the floodgates for India. Two overs later, Jadeja had Labuschagne caught behind and then trapped Alex Carey (0) two balls later.
Australia collapsed 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 tail stuck around to add vital runs with the last three wickets adding 59. Mitchell Starc scored 28 off 35 balls with two fours and a six. Captain Pat Cummins made 15 off 24. Adam Zampa gave them company while facing 20 balls.
Even so, Indian pacers finished up the job to restrict Australia to a total well below par for this wicket.
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 favour. 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 – perhaps fatally for India – but Marsh dropped Kohli on 12 in the eighth over. Kohli pulled one off Hazlewood, but Marsh could not complete the running catch despite making ample ground.
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 out caught at midwicket by Labuschagne off Hazlewood, but Rahul and Hardik Pandya (11 not out) finished the job.
India’s captain, Sharma, praised Kohli and Rahul as well as India’s bowlers.
“To start the tournament in the way we did was quite pleasing to see. Our bowlers used the conditions perfectly.”
“You don’t want to start your innings like that when you’re chasing that kind of target, but credit to the Aussies. They bowled well,” he added.
“Hats off to Virat and KL and how they stuck in the middle out there and created that match-winning partnership for us.”
Australia captain, Cummins, was left to rue the drop of Kohli early in the chase.
“Not ideal – especially someone of his calibre. Four down would have been the ideal start but not to be,” he said.
“It’s only one game out of nine, but there are areas we need to get better.”