India’s pursuit to protect their World Cup title began remarkably well as they beat Pakistan by 76 runs in their opening game of the tournament. The Indian team appeared to be well settled and though it wasn’t the most experienced team the World Cup has seen; it still looked highly competitive and ready to take on the world.
After the hype of the India vs. Pakistan match finally sizzled out, it was down to business. The next team India were to face was South Africa, a very unpredictable and dangerous World Cup team. South Africa were coming off a high, they had been playing extremely well in the lead up to the tournament and were expected to be very competitive. However South Africa and World Cups do not go well together. They had already had a shakey start against Zimbabwe losing their top four wickets for 83 runs. It was only thanks to David Miller and JP Duminy were they able to reach 300+ runs.
Regardless of South Africa’s World Cup antics, they had never lost a game against India in a World Cup. This game was to be their fouth against each other, with South Africa having chased down every total set by India in the three previous head-to-heads.
MS Dhoni won the toss and elected to bat first. A fairly strange decision considering India’s chasing record and the fact that all three loses to South Africa have been where India batted first. However India’s bowling unit have appeared a lot more consistent recently and if Indian batsmen could set a large total and then put pressure on the South African top order, they could be in with a chance.
It all began quite badly for India as a huge mix-up between the openers left Rohit Sharma well short of his crease in the third over. The wicket brought in the the man of the match against Pakistan and everyone already seemed to have forgotten that a wicket had just fallen. The cheers from the crowd as Virat Kohli walked onto the pitch were deafening. Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli toiled away and put on a great patnership of 125. They began very slowly and the run rate didn’t hit four until the 14th over. The pair batted well, they took very few risks after the first wicket fell and gave away only a few chances.
South Africa on the other hand fielded terribly. Considering they are one of the sharpest fielding teams around, it was amazing how many misfields there were. Dhawan was dropped by Hashim Amla on 53 and JP Duminy missed a runout chance; had either of these chances been taken, South Africa could have been facing a much smaller total to chase. Not only that, a lot of runs were given away through poor ground fielding. Imran Tahir removed Kohli on 46 but it was a bad ball and a poor shot that got him as he smacked it straight into the hands of Faf du Plessis. The next man in was Ajinkya Rahane. Rahane played a great innings and ran very well between the wickets with Dhawan. He showed true class hitting seven fours and three sixes. Dale Steyn looked almost like an ordinary bowler against these two and after South Africa lost Vernon Philander to a hamstring injury, their bowling department looked weak. Wayne Parnell ended up bowling the extra overs and was the most expensive South African bowler in the history of the World Cup, he conceded 85 runs in his nine overs.
Dhawan went on to make an incredible 137 to anchor the Indian innings. Once he got out it began to resemble their’s against Pakistan but with seven overs to go and 261 runs on the board, all the batsmen had to do were come out and swing. Had Raina or Dhoni been able to connect from the first ball, India could have been looking at 320+. They still ended on a highly respectable 307, the highest target India have set out of the four games.
307 might be a decent target against most teams, but not against South Africa if they settle in. India still had their work cut out for them and unless they were able to take early wickets, they would be in some serious trouble. Dhoni stuck with the same bowling attack that played against Pakistan, it appeared to be a good mix of bowlers that complimented each other well and once again they did not disappoint. India’s bowlers were able to do what South Africa’s could not. They picked off the batsmen at crucial intervals. Just when partnerships were beginning to look dangerous, another wicket fell. Both Quinton de Cock and Hashim Amla fell early. At 40-2 from 11 overs, South Africa needed to consolidate and gather themselves just as Kohli and Dhawan had done. It was not as though they were in any trouble with Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers at the crease. In fact, South Africa were still well in the game. The pair looked like they were on the right track as they added 68 to the total but at a crucial time, AB de Villers was run out going for the second run. There was no need to take the extra risk so early on in the innings. Faf du Plessis top scored with 55, he initially looked like he might go on to make a big score but once again, the Indians broke through. From there it was only downhill for South Africa, they went from 133-4 to 158-8 in less than 10 overs. The South African innings ended 130 runs short of India’s total.
It was an anti-climactic game considering how competitive both teams are and how each game of the three previous World Cup head-to-heads have gone. It did however prove just how capable and hungry the Indian’s are to retain their World Cup title. They may well be in with a shot if they can keep up their momentum.