Shikhar Dhawan struck a belligerent 80-ball century as India condemned a self-destructing South African team to a 26-run defeat in their Champions Trophy opener here on Thursday.
Cheered on by a partisan full-house at the Cardiff Wales Stadium, India rattled up a sizeable score, Dhawan’s 114 (94b, 12x4, 1x6) and his tall 127-run alliance with Rohit Sharma the centrepiece of a powerful batting exhibition.
South Africa seemed on course in its pursuit of India’s 331 until a series of ill-advised decisions from its batsmen saw the wheels come off the chase. A.B. de Villiers and Robin Peterson were skipping along merrily, their stand for the third wicket worth 124 (126b), when the latter was run out.
Ravindra Jadeja, who turned in a fine all-round display for India, dived to stop Peterson’s flick on the legside before returning the ball to the ’keeper. Peterson, who had set off quickly, was left stranded mid-pitch.
At that stage in the 25th over, South Africa was still 176 behind; but with its extraordinarily deep batting order, there was more than a ray of hope.
For one, the captain de Villiers, who had treated the crowd to some effortlessly pleasant shots, was still in. JP Duminy and he knittogether a partnership of sorts though progress was slow against India’s triple-spin combination of R. Ashwin, Jadeja and Suresh Raina.
Jadeja accounted for Duminy, trapping him leg-before; it was to be the beginning of a familiar South African tale of disappointment; a procession of five wickets for 75 runs in 12 overs or so. de Villiers trotted down the pitch to a short delivery from Umesh Yadav, only to top-edge the ball to Jadeja for 70 (71b).
Francois du Plessis and David Miller — both gifted, young players — contrived to involve themselves in a sorry run-out. Miller left without facing a ball while du Plessis was removed by Ishant Sharma.
Ryan McLaren salvaged some pride with a late, solo effort to help South Africa to 305 but the verdict had long been read.
Clear blue sky
It had been overcast all morning, leading up to the toss, but no sooner had de Villiers inserted the opponent in to bat than the cloudsparted. The rest of the innings was played in crisp sunshine, under a clear blue sky, swiftly easing any fears India may have harbouredabout the swinging ball.
Dale Steyn was expectedly absent with injury while Morne Morkel, despite generating some disconcerting bounce, saw his labours came to nothing. The rest of the bowling looked toothless as Rohit and Dhawan, watchful for some time, soon imposed their authority. Thirty runs were scored off the first seven overs; the next eight yielded 66.
South Africa was guilty of dropping the ball short too often, and without real purpose; the openers capitalized thoroughly. Rohit pulled without hesitation while Dhawan showed a penchant for stepping down the pitch, even to the quicker bowlers.
When South Africa threw on the spinner Robin Peterson, Dhawan came hopping down and drove him through the offside, sprinting to a 44-ball-50 with successive boundaries.
The partnership had looked infallible when Rohit was dismissed, caught at square-leg off McLaren for 65. Virat Kohli then stepped in, adding 83 for the second wicket as Dhawan turned the aggression up a notch.
The left-hander raised his hundred in a fashion in keeping with the rest of his innings, slashing Rory Kleinveldt for consecutive fours either side of the wicket.
Till Kohli was excised, India had looked on course for a total in the region of 350. In his presence, the score had crossed 200 with more than 15 overs — including a PowerPlay — left. And Besides, Morkel, South Africa’s best bowler by some distance, had limped off with a strain in the left thigh, unable to complete his seventh over.
Kohli’s dismissal, however, precipitated a collapse of sorts, five wickets falling for 50 runs in the space of 7.3 overs.
The innings looked in danger of a disappointing conclusion but Ravindra Jadeja turned in a delightful cameo.
He remained unbeaten on 47 (29b, 7x4, 1x6) as India went in satisfied at the break. That warm glow would only amplify by the end.