On a night when fortune smiled on one team one moment, then dramatically on the other team another moment, South Africa fought back valiantly against India to gain two important points in their Group B encounter of the ICC Cricket World Cup at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur. India still wait for confirmation on the quarterfinal spot.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni won the toss and decided to bat first. India opted for three seamers and one spinner as Munaf Patel was drafted ahead of Piyush Chawla. South Africa missed the services of Imran Tahir due to injury and Johan Botha took his place in the playing eleven. Virender Sehwag started with a four off the first ball. In the second over, he edged Morne Morkel but wicket keeper Morne Van Wyk did not so much as move an inch and the ball flew to the boundary. In the sixth over, he tore the bowling apart with three boundaries – a cover drive, a straight drive and a cut behind square.
Sachin Tendulkar, who was the silent partner till then, worked around a ball to fine leg for four runs in the 7th over but the shot of the day came in the last ball of the 8th over. He played a murderous straight drive that went for four runs. Everything about that shot was perfect – the timing, the placement but most importantly the follow through. I would love watching replays of that follow through any number of times. It was that beautiful. A hook that went for six was equally gorgeous. Sehwag reached his fifty in the 12th over which was followed by India getting to 100. Sachin soon reached his fifty in the 14th over and celebrated that with a lofted shot between midwicket and long on that went for six runs.
The introduction of Faf Du Plessis into the attack brought a wicket for South Africa. Sehwag tried to cut a ball but missed and saw the ball dislodging the stumps. Gautam Gambhir and Sachin then consolidated and the run rate started climbing down. Sachin got his third six off the day when he lofted Robin Peterson over long on. India reached their 200 in the 31st over and a 350 plus score looked a strong prospect. Sachin got to his 48th one-day hundred and his sixth in World Cups in the 36th over which was followed by Gambhir’s fifty.
India took the batting Powerplay in the 39th over when the score was 253/1. Unfortunately, instead of playing sensible cricket, the batsmen threw away their wickets. Sachin was the first to go as he tried a hoick but could only find JP Duminy at point take the offering with glee. Gambhir followed suit as he went outside leg stump and lofted the ball straight to the fielder at mid off. Yusuf Pathan’s cover drive ended up in Graeme Smith’s safe hands and Yuvraj Singh hit a full toss high to long on where Botha made no mistake.
More mayhem was to follow as Virat Kohli gave an easy catch back to Peterson and Harbhajan Singh had no clue to a pacy one from Dale Steyn and was yorked. Zaheer Khan heaved to long on but Morne Morkel kept his eyes on the ball and completed a fine catch. Ashish Nehra drove straight to Smith at cover and Munaf Patel’s stumps were yorked by Steyn. Nine wickets had fallen for 29 runs and India failed to play 50 overs as they were bowled out for 296. It was a great fightback by the South African bowlers led by Steyn who finished with 5/50.
The Indians fell at least 60 runs short in the end and South Africa realized they now had a real chance in the match. Smith and Hashim Amla gave them a steady start before Smith was dismissed in the 9th over. Kallis and Amla put on 86 runs for the second wicket. The partnership went at a steady pace cutting down any risks and focusing on accumulation. Amla got to his fifty in the 22nd over but was dismissed by Harbhajan Singh. The delivery kicked up after pitching, found the edge of his bat and settled in Dhoni’s gloves. It was a big wicket for India.
Kallis resorted to the sweep shot and got two boundaries in the 30th over as the asking rate climbed. AB De Villiers too got into the act lofting Harbhajan over midwicket for a six. Kallis however fell soon as he was run out attempting a second run. South Africa took the batting Powerplay in the 37th over. Nehra was dispatched for two boundaries by Duminy and De Villiers as South Africa tried to up the ante. Munaf Patel too was hit for two fours as the Powerplay started yielding results for South Africa. The 40th over bowled by Zaheer Khan was a run fest – a hockey style flick that went for four, a slash behind square that fetched four more and a ramrod six down the ground. De Villiers perished to Harbhajan in the next over though as his slog sweep was taken by Virat Kohli at the midwicket boundary.
The young Faf Du Plessis showed that he belonged to the league with a six over long off of Yuvraj. Duminy tried to play Harbhajan down the leg side but missed and Dhoni effected a smart stumping even though he fumbled initially. The fortune was swinging back and forth and the match was heading towards a nail biting finish. When Morne Van Wyk was trapped in front by Munaf Patel, it appeared as if the Indians would have the last laugh. But Botha attacked Munaf with a flick to midwicket for four and a straight six. Munaf dismissed Botha as he swung and could only hit it to cover where Suresh Raina, the substitute fielder, took a running catch.
When Zaheer bowled a faultless 49th over, the equation boiled down to 13 off 6 balls. Nehra was chosen to bowl the final over and an inside edge that went for four brought the equation to 9 off 5 balls. Peterson brought the cheers back to the South African camp when he went down on one knee and swung the next ball for a big six. Only 3 were required off 4 balls and Du Plessis and Peterson ran well to take two off the next ball. The scores were level at this stage. Peterson ensured South Africa won with a ferocious cover drive. The South African dressing room was a bundle of joy and rightly so as they were at the receiving end in their previous match against England.
India will look back and see that they have a lot of areas they need to work on. Losing 9 wickets for 29 runs was not a good advertisement for the batsmen and Dhoni admonished them in the post match presentation saying that the batsmen should not be playing for the crowds but should be playing for their country! The bowlers were better today but not penetrative enough to take wickets. They also bowled some poor deliveries when the pressure was on. The fielding was sub-standard, as is always the case with India. The team will need to stand and deliver in their final league outing against West Indies next weekend.
South Africa’s bowlers came back hard after the pasting they received initially. It was the bowling fightback that gave confidence to the batsmen to pursue the chase. They started steadily, punished the bad deliveries, accelerated in the batting Powerplay and kept their cool in the end. A very professional performance and with two matches to play, South Africa will fancy a finish at the top of the standings.