India made a solid start to their Cricket World Cup campaign with a victory against South Africa by six wickets at the Hampshire Rose Bowl in Southampton.
The impressive Indian bowling performance meant that South Africa only managed to make a paltry 227-9 from 50 overs.
Although they struggled early on with the losses of Shikhar Dhawan and captain Virat Kohli, Man of the Match Rohit Sharma led the chase with his match-winning 122 not out from 144 balls.
The Indians dominated from the first powerplay. Two early wickets by Jasprit Bumrah gave India the advantage from the off.
India brought their mercurial spinners into the attack in the middle overs. After constricting South Africa of runs, they bamboozled the Proteas with their trickery.
A double-strike by Yuzvendra Chahal in the 20th over cancelled out an attempted innings rebuild by van der Dussen and du Plessis.
When JP Duminy fell to Kuldeep Yadav, South Africa looked like they were in huge trouble at 89-5. But David Miller and Andile Phehlukwayo mounted a fightback with a partnership of 46.
Chahal, the pick of the bowlers, struck with another pair of consecutive wickets, to end their resistance and finish on 4 for 51 from 10 overs.
Morris and Rabada continued the South African lower order rescue attempt as they took their team into the 220s, before a final-over double strike by Bhuvneshwar Kumar completed the South African innings of 227-9.
India’s seemingly straight-forward run chase was hampered by losing Dhawan and Kohli, as a result of fiery South African bowling. Both edged behind to de Kock, with the former falling to Rabada and the latter to Phehlukwayo.
Eventually though, even if it was at a snail’s pace, India completed a professional performance and reached home safely with 15 balls to spare.
The Long Read
In a slightly bizarre situation, India were playing their first match of the tournament whilst it was South Africa’s third.
And it was a match which there was a much more even contest between bat and ball, than we have recently become accustomed to in ODI cricket.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar was chosen for this match instead of Mohammed Shami and proved why it was inspired decision with an impressive opening spell with ball, probing the line outside off stump.
His opening bowler partner was Jasprit Bumrah who was playing in his first World Cup match, and his 50th ODI. His first spell was characterised by pace, bounce and accuracy. And it did not take him long to pick up his first wicket of the tournament.
In his second over, and India’s fourth, a threatening Bumrah delivery got big on Amla, who edged it to Rohit Sharma at second slip.
Bumrah struck again in his next over with the dismissal of de Kock who knicked an edge to Captain Fantastic Virat Kohli in the slips.
It was a superb start by Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah who dominated South Africa’s batsmen in the first powerplay, and restricted them to only 34 runs.
The baton was passed to Hardik Pandya at the start of the second powerplay, who also extracted bounce out of the pitch with his pace. One of his deliveries spat up at Proteas captain Faf Du Plessis who did well to react and deflect the danger away.
In the next ten overs, India increased their stanglehold on the South Africa innings, as they squeezed the run rate.
South Africa’s batsmen were finally starting to find their timing and score runs at around the 15th over mark. But this was disrupted by a double-strike in the 20th over by Yuzvendra Chahal.
Van der Dussen was starting to find his groove and play well. But he premeditated with a reverse sweep and got too far across to the off side. Chahal capitalised with a spectacular leg spinning delivery around his legs.
Chahal’s second scalp was the crucial wicket of skipper Du Plessis, was bowled by a ball that did not turn and went through the gate, and finished on 38 from 54 balls.
Unable to pick the pick the ball out of the hand, South Africa’s batsmen were helpless as they were mesmerised by India’s mystery spinners.
Attempting to read the turn off the pitch meant that the South African batsmen had very little time anticipate.
Next it was the turn of magician Kuldeep Yadav to add to the misery of the Proteas. JP Duminy did not read Yadav’s delivery and stuck on the crease, he was trapped lbw. Losing their review in the process, South Africa were in deep trouble at 89-5 from 23 overs.
South Africa attemped to rebuild their innings with David Miller and Andile Phehlukwayo leading the charge. They dug in and eeked out a partnership of 46 hard-fought runs.
With the middle-order pair finding form, Indian skipper Virat Kohli was keen to break up the partnership. In the 36th over he brought Chahal back into the attack and he had an immediate impact.
Miller tried to drive Chahal down to long on for a single, but tricked by the drift and flight he mistimed the shot, which looped up the bowler, who gathered the ball to claim his third wicket.
Chahal completed his second double-strike when Phehlukwayo shimmied down the wicket to hit a big shot. The ball went through the gate and veteran keeper MS Dhoni proved he still has world-class reflexes with his speedy stumping.
The South African resistance was continued by Morris and Rabada, who grafted to take South Africa to the 200-mark in the 46th over.
They managed to stick it out until the last over, pushing South Africa into the 220s. An until-then wicketless Bhuvneshwar bowled the final over. On the second ball, a big hit by Morris down the ground went to the safe hands of captain Kohli.
On the final ball, another mistimed strike, this time by Tahir, went up in the air and was caught by Kedar Jadav at short-extra cover.
At the half-way stage, India required only 228 to win and were considered strong favourites to win.
South Africa’s dangerous bowling attack however, could not be underestimated. Rabada made an excellent start to South Africa’s innings, bowling with real intent to take an early wicket.
In his attempts to find that early success, he broke Shikhar Dhawan’s MRF Genius bat with a lethal yorker. In the sixth over, Rabada finally got the wicket that his bowling had deserved. He bowled a corker outside off-stump to Dhawan which was edged behind to de Kock.
He and the other South African bowlers welcomed Team India’s captain, Virat Kohli with fire. Kohli and Sharma struggled to make runs and just focussed on settling into their respective innings.
Phehlukwayo was brought on in the 12th over and almost had the desired impact immediately. He thought he had trapped Rohit Sharma lbw. However, whether the ball was hitting the stumps was deemed as umpire’s call, so South Africa retained their review.
Four overs later, Phehlukwayo found the success that his efforts warranted. The previous ball he had bashed away through mid wicket for four. His response was a testing delivery outside off stump, which Kohli knicked behind and de Kock leapt in the air to take a spectacular one-handed catch. Kohli departed for an uncharacteristic 18 from 34, and South Africa’s confidence was soaring.
It was a relatively slow start by India, who were scoring at around 3 runs an over. This however might have been a deliberate plan, knowing that the only way that they could lose was by being bowled out.
Undeterred, Sharma plodded along took it upon himself to steer India home, and reached his 50 from 70 balls in the 23rd over. Sharma had relied on his bread-and-butter of the late cuts behind square to pick up many of his runs. He was supported by KL Rahul who played a sensible knock and saw off the new ball.
Sharma notched up his first century of the tournament in the 41st over. It was not a free-flowing innings for the Indians who really had to work for their runs, and Sharma epitomised this with his calm and measured innings.
Nevertheless, the match was still not a done deal. As India had scored so slowly, in the final powerplay the run rate had crept up to a run a ball. This would be the perfect time for South Africa to take a wicket.
And the strike bowler Rabada tried with all his might. He was sent in to bowl his penultimate over in the 44th. And he made something happen. He bowled a ball outside off which Sharma tried to hit through mid wicket, but top edged into the sky.
David Miller was under the ball and seemed destined to take a regulation catch. He dropped it. And with he had probably dropped any chance that South Africa had of winning the match. To make the kick in the guts worse, the next ball was hit for four.
Morris showed Miller how to do it in the 47th over, when he caught a sky-high scuff by Dhoni off his own bowling. India still required 15 from 23 balls.
Hardik Pandya came in and he and Dhoni completed the run chase with 15 balls to spare, to round off a six wicket-victory for Team India.
India are considered joint-favourites by many to lift the World Cup. This victory might not have been vintage, but it sets India on their way to achieving that goal.
India’s bowling was incredibly impressive and it demonstrates that they have a world class bowling attack which can lead them to lifting the trophy in July.
Images courtesy of the ICC Cricket World Cup Twitter account