India started off their 2019 ICC World Cup campaign on the perfect note with Virat Kohli and his men notching up a clinical six-wicket win over South Africa at Southampton.
Chasing 228 for victory, India were made to toil before scampering across the finish line with 15 balls to spare as South Africa were left to rue a third straight defeat.
South Africa’s batting failed to click after skipper Faf du Plessis won the toss and elected to bat first. The Proteas could only muster 227-9 in their fifty overs and it took a 66-run stand for the eighth wicket between Chris Morris and Kagiso Rabada for the Proteas to ultimately get there.
Jasprit Bumrah gave India a roaring start with the new ball by removing South Africa openers Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla early before the wrist-spinners took control in the middle.
Yuvendra Chahal struck twice in his second over by sending back du Plessis and Rassie van der Dussen before Kuldeep Yadav dismissed JP Duminy. Chahal returned to remove David Miller and Andile Phehlukwayo in quick succession to leave South Africa reeling at 158-7.
Morris (42) and Rabada helped save South Africa’s blushes and ensured that the side batted its full quota of 50 overs.
In response, India lost Shikhar Dhawan early with a charged up Rabada finding the left-hander’s outside edge. Skipper Virat Kohli (18) was looking good at the crease but he fell early as well after Quinton de Kock pulled off a stunning one-handed catch while diving to his right.
Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul put the chase back on track with an 85-run stand that was dominated by the former. Rabada returned to dismiss Rahul and the pressure was right back on India with the required rate going above 5.50.
However, Rohit was growing in confidence and he found excellent support from MS Dhoni at the other end as he marched towards a 23rd ODI century. Dhoni (34) skied a catch back to Morris with the finish line in sight but Rohit had no trouble in finishing off matters in the company of Hardik Pandya.
Proteas choke on wrist-spin once again
India’s wrist-spin duo of Kuldeep and Chahal were unstoppable when the team toured South Africa at the start of last year. They picked up 33 wickets between them in five matches as India handed the Proteas a 5-1 thrashing in the ODI series and they continued that domination on Wednesday at Southampton.
Five wickets were picked up the duo with Chahal accounting for four of them as South Africa’s vulnerability against spin came back to haunt them. For a team which has an excellent wrist-spinner in Imran Tahir, the Proteas are strangely inept when it comes to combating it. It has been a longstanding problem with the team and they had more than a year to fix their issues after being horribly exposed by the Indians.
That they still haven’t come to grips with wrist-spin is now proving to be costly at the World Cup.
While Yuzvendra Chahal’s superb spell had ensured that India were chasing a modest target, they were still made to work hard for their runs by the South African bowling attack led by Kagiso Rabada.
Dhawan and Kohli falling early put India in a precarious spot but Rohit Sharma was on hand to put the chase back on track after surviving a tricky period at the start. Despite being given several uncomfortable moments against the new ball by Rabada, Rohit quickly asserted himself on the match.
It wasn’t the easiest of pitches to bat on with the ball sometimes taking off from a good length but Rohit held his nerves with an assured display. As is the case with the opener, he always makes it big once he gets in and that is exactly what he did at Southampton as he brought up a magnificent 23rd ODI hundred and then carried his bat.
That it came after two poor outings in the warm-ups was also a big plus for Rohit for India.
Proteas lose three in a row for the first time in a World Cup
While they are yet to win a World Cup title, South Africa have always been formidable performers in the competition. They had previously never lost more than two matches in a row in the World Cup but that record came to an end on Wednesday with the loss to India.
They now face the prospect of having to win all of their six remaining games if they are to advance to the semi-final.
Know more about Sport360 Application