Until they met in match # 13 at the MCG on Sunday, India had never recorded a victory over South Africa in a World Cup match. Whether that weighed on the players’ mind or not is a moot question now, but pre-match predictions would not have given India any chance. In the 2015 World Cup, South Africa, along with New Zealand and Australia are the three favorites and no one talks about India in the same league. On Sunday, however, Indians stayed calm and collected while batting and again when they took to the field. The way India started, it was difficult to imagine that they could set a 300+ target for the Proteas but that was what they did in the end. For South Africa, chasing 308 wasn’t so difficult against India’s much maligned bowling attack but having been weighed down by their performance in the field earlier, that turned out to be too much in the end. Indian reaped the benefit of a solid batting foundation laid down by Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane and when they took to the field during the South African chase, kept themselves level-headed. They broke the historical hoo-doo of always finishing as a losing side against South Africa in World Cup matches and walked away with a massive victory.
For second time in two games, India chose to bat after winning the toss. In the first few overs, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma found difficult to score against Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander. They might have been instructed to avoid flashy and risky strokes but in a limited-over game, you cannot go on playing defensive shots for too long. While Dhawan scored boundaries off Philander and Steyn, Sharma avoided risks. India got unlucky in the third over, when Sharma misjudged a single and had to hurry back to his crease. He couldn’t make it even as AB de Villiers’ direct throw from mid-off crashed on the stumps. It was too early to lose the first wicket but India had to expose their best batting hope to Steyn and Philander almost at the start. Sharma’s wicket brought more circumspection and India could reach 10/1 after 5 overs. Slowly things began to change as Dhawan and Kohli ran purposefully between wickets and found boundaries once in a while. Dhawan got lucky with some of his off-side flashes, which avoided his bat’s edges. India’s 50 came in the 14th over that also took the scoring rate to 4 an over.
As time passed, Dhawan and Kohli grew in confidence and opened out. Wayne Parnell’s introduction into the attack helped India raise the scoring rate further and Dhawan reached his second fifty of the 2015 World Cup in the 18th over. When on 53, Dhawan was dropped by Hashim Amla off Parnell, when he played uppishly towards backward point. It was a lucky escape for India, from where they kept consolidating. The 100-run partnership came in the 24th over and both Dhawan and Kohli looked well-set. However in the 28th over, Kohli departed after he tried to pull Imran Tahir and Faf du Plessis held him at short mid-wicket. But his 46 chanceless runs were to prove invaluable in the end. Ajinkya Rahane joined Dhawan and the two carried on from where Kohli left. India crossed 200 in the 37th over and 300+ looked a distinct possibility. After the third-wicket stand reached 125, Dhawan miscalculated a pull off a Parnell delivery and holed out to long-leg. That was the 44th over and India had reached 261. It was now left to the remaining batsmen to see India past 300. But Raina fell early and he was soon followed by Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja. Dhoni played a characteristically explosive cameo and even after he got out Ashwin and Shami took the final score to a creditable 307.
South Africa began the 308-run chase by losing both openers by the 11th over but AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis took over from 40/2. They seemed to be progressing well, when de Villiers drove Jadeja to the sweeper cover and tried two runs but a Mohit Sharma’s throw came on top of the bails and Dhoni did the rest. For South Africa, Villiers’ unfortunate run-out dismissal opened a can of worms. 108/2 became 133/4 when du Plessis fell and the Indians moved on top gear. By this time, the required rate had mounted to 8-plus. Wickets began to tumble as India applied pressure and South African batsmen became impatient. After du Plessis’ wicket, the last seven batsmen could just add 44 as South Africa were bowled out for 177 in the 41st over.
It was a creditable 130 run win for India after they beat Pakistan in nearly identical fashion on February 15. South Africa wilted under the pressure of a big target and played a second fiddle to India in every department. Shikhar Dhawan was adjudged as the player of the match for his bold century. Considering Dhawan had scored a total of 216 in his last 10 innings in Australia, 214 in two games of the CWC 2015 was a huge comeback. India now take on UAE on February 28th.