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.
Pakistan batsman Asif Ali credited his family for convincing him to travel to England and play the World Cup after the tragic death of his infant daughter.
Asif had to leave the UK after the fifth ODI against England following the death of his 19-month-old daughter Dua Fatima from cancer – who was in the US – last month.
Asif was not in the initial World Cup team but forced his way into the final squad with two fifties against England in the five-match series.
But the bereavement was an extremely tough time for the 27-year-old and Asif said his wife and family helped him keep his senses during that period.
“I was informed of my daughter’s health during the Pakistan Super League in February,” Asif was quoted as saying by AFP.
“It was shocking and heart-breaking but my family stood by me in those difficult times and they eased it by convincing me that I should play for the country and they will take care of her.
“They told me ‘don’t waste a chance of playing for the country’ because only lucky ones get that chance. Whatever Allah did, it was for her betterment.”
Asif said he was happy to be among the runs during the series against England which Pakistan lost 4-0.
“I need to score quick runs in the final overs and you may have seen my game during the series where I got more overs to bat,” he said. “I got 20-25 overs and that’s why I scored two fifties. If you bat up the order then it’s relatively easy to hit out as you get settled.”
Pakistan made a poor start to the World Cup after being bundled out for 105 against the West Indies. But they bounced back in style against favourites England in Nottingham. Asif said it was a great sign for the men in green.
“Beating England was awesome,” said the lower order batsman. “England have a strong batting line-up, so the win was very good. We now have the momentum and we will take it with us in the next games.”
The opening week of the 2019 World Cup has seen some enthralling action already with scores ranging from 348 to 105. Bowlers have enjoyed bowling on some of the more helpful surface while batsmen also have been provided the opportunity to score.
Hosts England made a good start to the World Cup but fell short against a re-energised Pakistan while South Africa had a horror first two games to go with a lengthening injury list.
India played their first match of the tournament nearly a week after the games began, while Bangladesh and Australia made strong starts.
Every week, we will look at decisions and strategies that hit the mark or missed in England over the summer. Here are our picks from the opening week.
Today, 'Dre Russ' bowled like a Test seamer. His first 16 deliveries were all short balls - and Pakistan were unable to cope. They collapsed, Windies chased, and we all got the early train.— Ben Jones (@benjonescricket) May 31, 2019
Report from a remarkable (and short) day in Nottingham: https://t.co/haxDQavEm4 #CWC19 pic.twitter.com/OziigerauY
They said it was going to be a 350-400 run World Cup. Bowlers would be reduced to bowling machines who can talk. But overcast conditions and some world-class bowlers have balanced the contest in England.
West Indies gave every team a template to work on this World Cup by blasting away Pakistan on a decent pitch in Nottingham. Andre Russell in particular bowled three overs of pure venom, giving hardly anything to drive. Oshane Thomas and the rest of the bowlers picked up from there and it continued in subsequent matches.
Australia quicks used the short stuff to restrict a spirited Afghanistan batting line-up. In fact, according to ESPNcricinfo, of the first 54 wickets to fall this World Cup, 23 were by deliveries that were short.
That’s not to say every short-ball barrage worked. Jofra Archer struggled to control the short ball against Pakistan and threw down multiple wides. Still, if the wicket is flat, fast bowlers know that a well-directed bouncer has an excellent change of resulting in a wicket, maybe more so than a slower one.
GREEN-TOPS IN CARDIFF
Two matches have been held in Cardiff so far and with Sri Lanka appearing in both. The matches with New Zealand and Afghanistan were played on green-tops with seamers having a field day in overcast conditions.
In the first game, the Kiwis blew away Sri Lanka for 136 while in the second game, the Sri Lankans had to fight tooth and nail to beat the Afghans by 34 runs after struggling to their score of 201. The ball jagged around throughout the match and that is not what you need in a World Cup.
Cardiff will host two more matches – England v Bangladesh and South Africa v Afghanistan. It is unfair that just these team have to contend with the vagaries of Cardiff. While we all want to see a decent contest between bat and ball, watching teams battle to reach 200 is no fun.