Splendid batsmanship and oriental spin, the twin attributes that influenced India’s cricketing history, combined well at the Hampshire Bowl here on Wednesday. The fusion, evident through Rohit Sharma’s unbeaten 122 and leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal’s four for 51, helped Virat Kohli’s men register a six-wicket triumph and start their World Cup campaign on a winning note at South Africa’s expense.
Pursuing South Africa’s 227 for nine, India finished with 230 for four in 47.3 overs. Meagre targets can be tricky and openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit had to contend with Kagiso Rabada’s hostile overs. The speedster along with Chris Morris briefly had Rohit hopping. But it was Dhawan, who succumbed, as Rabada induced the southpaw to nick one.
The stands that lapsed into a stunned silence, regained its voice on sighting Virat Kohli. The decibel levels soared when Rohit hooked a six off Rabada and followed it with two fours. Rohit and Kohli found synergy through their singles, high-fives and a steady tempo. When Kohli did that patented slap-pull off his to pick a four off Andile Phehlukwayo, all seemed fine in batting paradise. But in the very next delivery, Phehlukwayo drew Kohli out and the snick was paused by a leaping Quinton de Kock.
India 54 for two in 15.3 overs and the stage set for K.L. Rahul to present his credentials at number four. Luckily for Rahul, he could imbibe confidence from Rohit and an 85-run third-wicket partnership took shape. Rahul straight drove a four off Phehlukwayo but largely played second-fiddle to Rohit, who scattered the spinners, be it Imran Tahir or Tabraiz Shamsi.
India seemed on course but against the run of play, Rahul spooned a catch off Rabada. India 139 for three but with M.S. Dhoni sauntering in and Rohit in supreme form, it was all about nudging the score. The required rate stayed within reach and attention shifted to Rohit’s ton and India’s eventual victory, both were attained without fuss though Dhoni fell at the business-end. But by then his 74-run fourth-wicket partnership with Rohit had sealed South Africa’s fate.
Interestingly on 107, Rohit’s mistimed shot off Rabada popped out of a shocked David Miller’s hands. That moment encapsulated South Africa’s despair while it plunged towards its third successive defeat.
Earlier, Faf du Plessis elected to bat and watched his decision unravel. Bhuvneshwar Kumar kept it tight. Jasprit Bumrah was a clear and present danger and a fidgety de Kock watched Hashim Amla depart. Bumrah homed in, Amla tried to cover the line, the ball rose, deviated and Rohit caught well at second-slip.
South Africa was tentative and it got worse when de Kock’s drive off Bumrah, found Kohli at third slip. It was time for du Plessis to lead from the front and he stitched a 54-run third-wicket partnership with Rassie van der Dussen. And just as the skies turned sombre, Hardik Pandya hustled the batsmen, striking du Plessis twice on his gloves. The South African captain did not flinch and with der Dussen, smoothly countered Kuldeep Yadav.
India then inflicted a double-blow in the 20th over. The killer punches were albeit delivered slowly as Chahal (four for 51) with his lean presence, jaunty steps and a big grin, rolled his arm over. der Dussen attempted a pre-meditated reverse-sweep while du Plessis had no clue to the one that slid straight and in both instances, the timber rattled.
Soon Kuldeep rapped J.P. Duminy’s pads and South Africa slumped to 89 for five in 23 overs. It was time for the second recovery act and David Miller and Phehlukwayo forged it through their 46 runs for the sixth wicket till the duo fell to an ecstatic Chahal. South Africa found a late wind through the blades of Morris and Rabada and their 66-run eighth-wicket partnership but that belated surge could not scuttle India’s best-laid plans.
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