India cruise through in second gear as South Africa is down on the dumps
It was a brilliant watch – a contest between bat and ball on a pitch that afforded both batsman and bowler some help.
South Africa are in a desperate situation at the moment. That sentence would have been the headline when they lost to Bangladesh on Sunday. Two losses in two games to start the 2019 World Cup – it couldn’t have been any worse. Well, as things stand, it has. Three losses in three games after India cruised past them by six wickets on Wednesday.
It is easy to get past them at the moment – the Proteas aren’t clicking as one unit. In two of the three games, their bowling has fired to an extent. Their batting has been found without a backbone. Hapless, their fielding has often deserted them in passages of play they needed to seize control of.
Sample this – shortly after his hundred on Wednesday, Rohit Sharma pulled a skier off Kagiso Rabada. David Miller got under it at extra cover and after watching the ball a long while, simply spilled it. It was nightmarish, even from an Indian point of view.
It isn’t to say South Africa were ever in the game, no. Rohit made sure of that with his evenly paced hundred.
Wednesday on Southampton was sunny in the morning while trainloads of fans arrived from London and elsewhere. Slowly though, proper English weather took over and the ball was nipping around throughout.
Kagiso Rabada has been criticised of late for looking a bit jaded – riches of the IPL are to blame, for South African players didn’t return early, unlike their Australian and English counterparts. He rose above this criticism though, putting in a hard day’s shift. Batting, bowling, fielding – he was perhaps the best Protea on the field and there was no lack of inspiration.
A 228-run target can be an iffy one. In this T20 era, teams usually prepare to chase down 280-plus on most days, and even 300 isn’t that rare a score anymore. Thus, at times, chasing sides can be caught on the wrong side of momentum as defending bowlers give everything in their opening spells. It was similarly true for Rabada, who tested the Indian top-order over after over.
With his height, he always generates disconcerting bounce. Add to it, a dangerous inswinger and sharp pace, and Rabada can be a handful. Despite a low total, he kept India in check, as they didn’t make a good start. Instead, there were miscues, plays-and-misses, lobs that didn’t go to hands – the Indian top-order gave four half-chances within the first 10 overs. Call it luck, if you want.
Shikhar Dhawan isn’t comfortable when the ball is moving around in such fashion. Virat Kohli was out to a stunning one-handed catch from Quinton de Kock. Among the three then, Rohit was the luckiest it seemed, surviving Rabada’s initial onslaught despite being beaten countless times. It was only in the eighth over that he broke the shackles – a pulled six, a thick edge and then a determined cut, the latter two resulting in fours.
It was a brilliant watch – a contest between bat and ball on a pitch that afforded both batsman and bowler some help. Unlike ODI pitches recently in England, the batsmen had to dig in for a change, and this is where Rohit took most credit. It was an uncharacteristic innings – he is the Hitman, someone who loves hitting across the line and doesn’t back down from audacious aerial shots even when the situation doesn’t call for it.
For a change though, Rohit had to temper himself. India weren’t losing wickets as regularly as South Africa did, but the bowlers always had a chance on that pitch. It became a battle of attrition and Rohit just didn’t want to throw it away. This was the single-biggest differentiator between the two sides in this game – shot selection, curbing that desire to go for the big one, waiting for the really loose delivery to punish.
Look at how Rassie van der Dussen and Andile Pheklukwayo were dismissed. The former played a needless reverse sweep, and the latter was out attempting to hit the ball out of the park. In both cases, the situation had demanded something else – van der Dussen had built a partnership with Faf du Plessis and he simply needed to carry on. Phehlukwayo still had 10 more over to go – South Africa needed him to bat those out.
It wasn’t poor shot selection alone – like Rabada, Chris Morris and Imran Tahir, India’s bowlers used the conditions very well, even better than the Proteas. Maybe it was because they were bowling first, and weren’t hampered by a lack of runs to defend. Either way, there was no leeway given to the South African batsmen who didn’t help their cause with hara-kiri.
Even so, this Indian bowling attack is miles ahead of what du Plessis has at his disposal. Or, any other captain for that matter; Kohli’s bowlers are an unrelenting machinery. They will have their off-days, yes, but when on song, they simply don’t let up any pressure. Jasprit Bumrah moving the ball at pace and on length – he was a notch higher than Rabada, and South Afrida didn’t have a Rohit in their line-up.
The pitch may not have been sub-continental, but Yuzvendra Chahal used the breeze at Hampshire to bamboozle their middle order. It is the spiritual home of Shane Warne, who played most of his county cricket here. In that regard, Chahal’s haul of 4-51 was an ode to the greatest leg spinner of all time, one who mastered his art in English conditions.
India’s win on Wednesday was a summation of Bumrah’s raw pace, Chahal’s guile and Rohit’s perseverance. So much so, the Men in Blue didn’t even have to get into third gear to kick-start their World Cup campaign.