India 230 for 4 (Rohit 122*, Dhoni 34, Rabada 2-39) beat South Africa 227 for 9 (Morris 42, du Plessis 38, Chahal 4-51, Bumrah 2-35) by six wickets.
South Africa plummeted to their third straight defeat in three games this World Cup, going down this time to India by six wickets in Southampton.
They stood undone by Jasprit Bumrah’s pace and bounce early on, familiarly collapsed to leg-spin in the middle overs, before feeling the sting of Dale Steyn and Lungi Ngidi’s absence. Rohit Sharma became the third Indian opener in three editions to score a hundred in a World Cup match against them, in the process leading an easy-paced run-chase not much unlike his own style of batting.
Even though Rohit’s 122* was 53 per cent of India’s runs , it was the bowlers who set up the win. They were helped by the early morning moisture in the pitch, as much as they were by South Africa’s reluctance to bowl first. After two botched run-chases, batting first was what they had to try and do. And against Bumrah’s new-ball menace, it was a self-goal.
Both Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock found life difficult against Bumrah’s over-the-wicket angle, and lost their wickets to him in his statement-making first spell, which read 5-0-13-2. While Amla was caught at second slip, squared up by the pace and bounce, de Kock was out driving at a wide delivery after he’d been starved for room outside offstump. He drove at one of the widest deliveries he faced and was caught at third slip – an aberration of a fielding position in one-day cricket but one that Virat Kohli had the wits for. Even better, he had stationed himself in that position.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, though wicketless in the first spell that read 5-0-20-0, was steady, allowing Bumrah to be aggressive with his plans at the other end. He was replaced by Hardik Pandya, who kept the pressure on after South Africa had tallied 34 for 2 after 10 overs, the worst powerplay score in the tournament, and held the fort for the spinners. And after that, it was all Yuzvendra Chahal.
Even though Kuldeep Yadav was atypically handed the ball first, it was Chahal at the other end who proved to be India’s main enforcer in the middle overs. The legspinner got some beautiful drift, which he used to undo a sweep shot from Rassie van der Dussen. Faf du Plessis was bowled off a googly in the same over and it was deja vu all over again for them. A 5-1 series loss not so long back was starting to feel real again.
Kuldeep’s leg-before dismissal of JP Duminy with a googly then had South Africa reeling at 89 for 5. It was when one of the two recoveries would arrive, which would go on to thrust them to a total of 227. The first of the two, a 46-run partnership between David Miller and Andile Phehlukwayo, happened when India slacked off for a bit, bowling Kedar Jadhav for four overs on the trot between overs 28-34. The second would arrive after Chahal’s dismissal of Phehlukwayo in the 40th over, in the form of Chris Morris’s 34-ball 42.
Chahal finished with 4 for 51, his bowling figures subdued by a couple of sixes from Chris Morris. And as those sixes seemed to foreshadow, the highest partnership of the innings flourished soon after Chahal finished his spell. Chris Morris took charge in a 66-run stand for the eighth wicket, not just delivering South Africa past 200 but also giving the South Africa bowlers something to work with. Kagiso Rabada finished unbeaten on 31 off 35 balls.
It was Rabada again with the ball after the innings break. He beat the edge on multiple occasions, even broke Shikar Dhawan’s bat, had the ball bounce sharply from a back of a length but did all of that without much luck. The top-edges fell in no-man’s land, and when they didn’t, South Africa dropped them. Rohit Sharma’s dropped catch on 1 by Faf du Plessis was the one that mattered the most.
Dhawan was eventually caught behind off Rabada, failing to recreate his innings of 2015, but it was Phehlukwayo who made South Africa believe, even if it was for a short while. Quinton de Kock pulled off a stunning one-handed catch off Phehlukwayo’s bowling to dismiss Virat Kohli, which led to an uncertain hour of proceedings for India. KL Rahul, to his credit, reined himself during the period for a 42-ball 26, allowing Rohit to slowly gnaw at the target from the other end.
Imran Tahir had no luck opening the bowling to Rohit earlier on, and he had none later too. The 40-year-old conceded 58 runs without picking a wicket, as did Tabraiz Shamsi in his nine overs for 54 runs. With the spinners failing to recreate what India’s spin twins did, Rabada and Morris’s efforts with the ball early on, which had restricted India to 34 for 1 after the first powerplay, counted for little.
Rohit’s 23rd ODI hundred was his slowest but allowed India a slow kill at the chase, achieved with 2.3 overs to spare. South Africa’s plight lay in their diffidence to bowl first, their game-plan against the spinners, and their lack of bite with the ball, spin more than pace. When David Miller dropped Rohit’s simple catch on 107 at cover, it didn’t just signal the beginning of the end of the match but perhaps of South Africa’s campaign in this World Cup too. Admittedly, it’s an uphill task from here on.