An incredible match of twists and turns

Though the Indian bowlers conceded a whopping 99 runs in the final 11 overs, it was the team's batting collapse that proved to be the turning point of the match. Over to S. Dinakar.

In a dramatic conclusion, South Africa roared back to clinch a match that India should never have lost. At the death, Robin Peterson's calm head and weighty strokes nailed the match for his side. He then leapt in delight, punching the air even as the large gathering at the Vidarbha Cricket Association ground in Nagpur turned silent.

South Africa, pursuing 297 under lights, required 13 run from the final over to be sent down by Ashish Nehra. A boundary and a six off the first two deliveries settled the issue in the ICC World Cup Group ‘B' match.

“I had to choose between Nehra and Harbhajan Singh for the final over. Nehra has been our best bowler at this stage for the last two years. But things did not work out. That is cricket,” said the Indian captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, after the dust had settled on a sensational contest that South Africa won by three wickets.

It was a dramatic day's cricket with several twists. With Sachin Tendulkar building yet another edifice, Virender Sehwag blazing away and Gautam Gambhir coming up with an innings of substance, India blitzed its way to 267 for one in 39.3 overs. Then, in an astonishing collapse, India was bowled out for 296 in the 49th over. The host lost its last nine wickets for 29 runs in 54 deliveries. The batting lacked character at the business end of the innings.

Man of the Match Dale Steyn whipped up a brilliant spell of controlled fast bowling in unfavourable conditions. Mixing his pace and length, cramping the batsmen for room and delivering a succession of scorching yorkers, the South African fired out five batsmen for nine runs in his fourth and fifth spells.

“It was an outstanding display of fast bowling,” skipper Graeme Smith said later.

The Indians lost the plot in the batting Power Play, taken between overs 39 and 43. As many as four wickets were lost while only 30 runs were scored. The match witnessed a sudden momentum shift. The decision to promote Yusuf Pathan backfired.

“We lost too many wickets in the Power Play overs. But Yusuf bats like that. He either gets out very early or goes on to play a destructive innings. That's the chance you take,” said Dhoni.

He admitted that India, perhaps, aimed too high. “We could have got 340 but wanted 360 or 370. But we did not even bat for full 50 overs. That was disappointing.”

Even as Steyn sliced through from one end, Kallis, with his back-of-a-length fast medium bowling, and Peterson — he bowls his left-arm spin with greater control these days — too picked up crucial wickets.

The Indian batsmen erred by not dishing out conventional cricket and finding the gaps in the infield with cultured stroke-play. Instead, they attempted to biff the bowling and came apart.

Earlier, Tendulkar had delighted with his 99th international century; this was also his sixth in the World Cup. Tendulkar batted with fluency and footwork, balance and bravado. And Sehwag created scoring opportunities with his bat-speed and hand-eye coordination. The bowling was dismissed ruthlessly on a surface that suited stroke-play.

However, the pitch slowed down as the match progressed. South Africa had to plan its chase; it had to keep wickets in hand before launching the final onslaught.

Zaheer Khan removed his bunny Graeme Smith rather early but the accomplished pair of Hashim Amla and Kallis created a platform for South Africa.

Boundaries were hard to come by and the asking rate climbed. However, Amla and Kallis kept their side in the hunt.

Then, Abraham de Villiers came up with a blinder. He was light on his feet and heavy with his strokes. The talented batsman disrupted the length of the bowlers and made them change plans. De Villiers seemed all set to take the match away from India when he was well held in the deep by Virat Kohli after slog-sweeping Harbhajan.

Despite the loss of de Villiers, South Africa pounded 52 runs in the batting Power Play overs. And the game hurtled towards an interesting climax.

There were cameos from Jean-Paul Duminy and Johan Botha and further fortune swings. Faf du Plessis displayed a calm head to keep one end up even as the batsmen went for the bowling from the other.

Peterson had the last say. The Indian bowling, apart from Zaheer Khan, was found wanting at the death. A whopping 99 runs were conceded in the final 11 overs!

Yet, looking back, it was India's batting capitulation, of the believe-it-or-not variety, that proved to be the turning point of the match.

THE SCORES

India 296 in 48.4 overs (V. Sehwag 73, S. Tendulkar 111, G. Gambhir 69, D. Steyn 5-50) lost to South Africa 300 for seven in 49.4 overs (H. Amla 61, J. Kallis 69, A. B. de Villiers 52, F. du Plessis 25 not out, Harbhajan Singh 3-53) by three wickets.