India showed just why no one was writing them off even after they had spent two-and-a-half months in Australia without a win. They might not be the strongest team in the field, but on big days in limited-overs cricket they stay calmer than most. In a match to potentially decide who finishes top of their group, India sat back and saw South Africa work themselves up into a frenzy, get too funky and wilt under the weight of their own mistakes. This was India’s first win over South Africa in a World Cup match.
If at all, India like going old school on big days. Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli began slowly, made sure India had a solid platform before they began to accelerate. Dhawan went on to score his first century in three months spent in Australia – his personal best and also the highest scoreagainst South Africa in a World Cup match. Kohli fell for 46, but Ajinkya Rahane scored 79 off 60 to help Dhawan along. India kept the defence simple too: bowl as few bad balls as possible, and once again under pressure South Africa imploded.
The execution of both the plans from India was spot on, but that had a lot to do with how simple the plans and preparation were. South Africa called in Gary Kirsten and Michael Hussey for consultation, they picked an extra bowler in Wayne Parnell, they used spinners in unconventional parts of the innings, but the anxiety showed the most in the fielding. Hashim Amla dropped Dhawan on 53, but anxiety was never more apparent in their trigger-happiness with unnecessary throws at the stumps and fumbles on the ground. It’s hard to remember when South Africa last fielded so badly.
It started much better, though. AB de Villiers sent Rohit Sharma back for a duck with a direct hit from extra cover. India deserve all the credit for not panicking when Dale Steyn was bowling well along with Vernon Philander. It took them 14 overs to reach four an over for the first time, but South Africa looked the more anxious team. Philander had walked off with a hamstring injury, Morne Morkel had begun ordinarily, and Parnell – who would register the worst figures for a South African in a World Cup match – was going to be targeted.
Dhawan and Kohli attacked South Africa with proper attacking shots, and not scoops and reverses. They added 127 in 24.2 overs with Kohli taking the back seat to Dhawan’s positive approach. It could have gone better for South Africa. Dhawan had looked in good touch in reaching 53 off 73, Kohli had just about got over a slow start, but South Africa were offered an opportunity to halt the assault. Dhawan cut Parnell to the right of Amla at point, a regulation catch by modern standards, Amla got both hands to it, but dropped it.