India's surge in the final stretch of its innings – the side blasted 75 runs in the last five overs – eventually proved the decisive phase of this much-awaited duel at the Beausejour Stadium on Sunday.
With its total soaring to 186 for five, India held all the aces when South Africa pursued on a sluggish surface.
South Africa, choked initially by the spinners and falling behind in run-rate, left too much for its latter batsmen to accomplish. The side, despite a few late big hits, fell short by 14 runs.
India enters the Super Eight with an all-win record in Group `C.'
Indeed, the Indian campaign in the ICC World Twenty20 is picking up steam.
At the heart of the Indian victory before a colourful and enthusiastic crowd was Suresh Raina. His 60-ball 101 was a stunning effort. Not surprisingly, the left-hander was adjudged Man of the Match.
Undone by Raina's influential innings, the pressure was on South Africa when it chased. Mahendra Singh skippered well by employing the spin-pace combination of Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar with the new ball. There was hardly any pace on the ball for Jacques Kallis and Loots Bosman to work with and South Africa fell behind when the field restrictions were on. After this period, the side had a mountain to climb.
Kallis (73), reprieved very early by Yusuf Pathan at backward point off Harbhajan, batted with customary poise but was unable to force the pace initially.
Kallis was put down, again, this time by 'keeper Dhoni off left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja. Before, he managed a brace of slog-swept sixes off Harbhjan, South Africa had conceded too much ground.
The other heavyweight in the line-up, Smith, eventually done in by the combination of Praveen Kumar (from deep square leg) and Dhoni, made a steady 36. However, the biggest danger for India came in the form of a 15-ball 31 from Abraham de Villiers.
But then, left-arm paceman Aashish Nehra, varying his length and speed and sending down a few telling yorkers, bowled capably at the death. And young spinners Piyush Chawla, getting some fizz off the track, and Jadeja held their nerve. India closed out the game.
Earlier, Raina held centre-stage. The ease with which Raina picks the length is the hallmark of his batsmanship. The talented southpaw gets into a position quickly and has more than one stroke as his response. The left-hander made all the right moves for India.
India, 67 for two after the first ten overs, changed gears in the second half of the innings. In fact, Raina's final 82 runs consumed only 38 balls as the southpaw cut loose.
The manner in which he created room – Raina moved outside his leg-stump – for a thundering six over wide long-on off Jacques Kallis had the crowd applauding.
Raina's inside-out drives against left-arm spinner van der Merwe reflected a mind that was in harmony with his body. The left-hander was using the width of the crease to create room. He harnessed the depth of the crease for strokes behind point. Raina also changed the length by jumping down the track.
Importantly, his batting was underlined by poise and balance. Raina's effort was not about the big hits alone; he rotated the strike cleverly.
A very sub-continental square-drive off Dale Steyn was a peach of a stroke. Raina's forearms are strong. He has supple wrists too. He was also watching the bowler's hand closely. When paceman Rory
Klienveldt altered his speed, he was dumped over the square-leg fence.
It was a triumphant movement for Raina – he became the first batsman to score a Twenty20 international hundred at this venue – when he blasted a full-length delivery from Albie Morkel over the wide mid-wicket fence.
There was another important contribution in the Indian innings. Yuvraj Singh (37) delighted. A swept six off left-arm spinner van der Merwe and an audacious on-the-walk whipped six off Albie Morkel were compelling strokes.
Then, the big hitting Yusuf Pathan and Dhoni came up with some powerful blows towards the end. South Africa lost control. The atmosphere at this arena flanked by green hills was one of celebration. The beating of the drums was in keeping with the rhythm of the game. So were the chants from an enthusiastic audience.
Graeme Smith won the spin of the coin and elected to field. His move made sense for a morning game starting at 9.30. There could be moisture on the surface.
The big-built Kleinveldt prised out Murali Vijay in the corridor and Dinesh Karthik, after promising briefly, holed out off Kallis.
Steyn and Morke Morkel strove to hustle the batsmen with speed and bounce but there was little assistance for them from the surface for these tactics to work.
This was a day when Raina had the final say. The left-hander is in the middle of a dream run.
Dinesh Karthik c Smith b Kallis 16; Murali Vijay c Boucher b Kleinveldt 0; Suresh Raina c de Villiers b Albie Morkel 101; Yuvraj Singh c Smith b Kleinveldt 37; Yusuf Pathan c van der Merwe b Steyn 11; Mahendra Singh Dhoni not out 16; Harbhajan Singh not out 0
Extras (w 4, nb 1) 5
Total (for five wickets in 20 overs) 186
Fall of wickets: 1-4 (Vijay, 0.2 overs), 2-32 (Karthik, 5.3), 3-120 (Yuvraj, 15.5), 4-163 (Pathan, 18.3), 5-178 (Raina, 19.4)
Rory Kleinveldt 4-0-48-2; Dale Steyn 4-0-24-1; Morne Morkel 4-0-32-0; Albie Morkel 3-0-39-1; Jacques Kallis 4-0-30-1; Roelof van der Merwe 1-0-13-0
Jacques Kallis c Jadeja b Chawla 73; Loots Bosman c Chawla b Pathan 8; Graeme Smith run out Kumar/Dhoni) 36; AB de Villiers c Chawla b Nehra 31; Albie Morkel c Harbhajan b Pathan 12; Mark Boucher not out 4; Jean Paul Duminy not out 4
Extras (b 1, lb 2, nb 1) 4
Total (for five wickets in 20 overs) 172
Fall of wickets: 1-21 (Bosman, 4.4), 2-118 (Smith, 15.3), 3-128 (Kallis, 16.3), 4-152 (Albie Morkel, 18.3), 5-167 (de Villiers, 19.4)
Harbhajan Singh 4-0-33-0; Praveen Kumar 1-0-3-0; Ashish Nehra 4-0-27-1; Yusuf Pathan 4-0-42-—2; Piyush Chawla 3-0-27-1; Ravindra Jadeja 4-0-37-0
Player of the match: Suresh Raina (India)
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pakistan) and Simon Taufel (Australia); TV umpire: Rod Tucker (Australia)
Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka)