Rohit, Chahal flatten South Africa

Top-notch Stuff: India’s Rohit Sharma sweeps one to the boundary during his match-winning century against South Africa. REUTERS

On a pitch that belied its appearance, South Africa sorely missed the services of their frontline pacemen who have been rendered hors de combat. The surface offered generous bounce and the cloud cover aided movement in the air, enabling the pacemen from either side to hold sway. But South Africa’s second-choice attack on the park needed a few more runs on the board to prevent the side from sliding to their third consecutive defeat.

In the morning, Jasprit Bumrah (2/35) was all fire and brimstone in his opening spell while the wrist spin duo of Yuzvendra Chahal (4/51) and Kuldeep Yadav (1/44) continued to torment the South Africans who, after opting to bat first in overcast conditions, could muster a below par 227/9. Given the conditions, it was always going to be a laborious chase but the Indians appeared prepared for the task.

While Shikhar Dhawan (8) failed to survive the pace test, Virat Kohli (18) wasted his start. Rohit Sharma had almost perished but fortune favoured the right-hander and he made the most of it with a century (122 n.o.) as India began their World Cup campaign on a winning note. After surviving a few anxious moments in the face of some hostile pace bowling from the Kagiso Rabada-led attack, India replied with 230 for four for a six-wicket win here at the Ageas Bowl on Wednesday.    

There was a sort of panic in the Indian camp when Dhawan and Kohli were both back in the change room with the score reading 54/2 in 16th over. However, an 85-run stand (96 balls) between Rohit and K L Rahul (26) settled the nerves. While India’s position was still far from safe, Rohit was looking good for a long haul and the South African pacers had lost the initial zing and zip. With M S Dhoni (34) manning the other end in his own inimitable fashion, India cruised home.

Rohit’s innings wasn’t without its blemishes but it had his signature imprint on it all along. He edged, top-edged, miscued and was beaten on the off but the century was also dotted with exquisite cover drives, audacious pulls and cheeky late cuts. It wasn’t smooth sail for the Indian vice-captain but the one that he will be most satisfied with, given the significance of the occasion.   

It did come as a bit of surprise when South Africa chose to bat first and as it turned out, the Proteas found the going tough against the new-ball duo of Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (2/44). While Bhuvneshwar was effective without getting any breakthrough in his first spell, Bumrah was on top of his trade on his World Cup debut.

The right-arm quick hassled the South African openers with his pace, bounce and movement and it didn’t take long for India to draw the first blood. Amla nicked one while trying to defend, the extra bounce taking the thick blade to Rohit at third slip.

In the next over, Bumrah had Quinton de Kock who flashed hard away from the body but couldn’t put it beyond the safe hands of Kohli at third slip. After restricting them to 34/2 in the first 10 overs, the worst powerplay show in the tournament so far, India pressed two of their wrist spinners into service. Chahal and Kuldeep had given a torrid time to South Africa during latter’s 1-5 defeat in the ODI series early last year and their troubles against the two wrist spinners haunted them again.

While Kuldeep took some time to get his rhythm right, Chahal was right on the money from the start. In his second over itself, he struck twice removing both Hendrick van der Dussen and Faf du Plessis. Chahal got two more for second-best returns by an Indian bowler on World Cup debut behind Mohammad Shami while Kuldeep picked one as the duo claimed 5/95 between them in 20 overs. If Bumrah’s first spell put South Africa on the backfoot, Chahal and Kuldeep broke their back.

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