After accomplishing the first step (as easily as they were expected to) in regaining the T20 world cup trophy, India were on to sussing their strengths and weaknesses, against an equally strong South African team, who should be among the top 3 contenders for the cup, on Sunday May 2, 2010. India had a setback before the toss, with Gautam Gambhir declared unavailable due to diarrhea. Also, they rested Zaheer Khan, which meant, India went in with a spin heavy attack and a brand spanking new opening combination (both bowling & batting).
The pitch, similar to other pitches in the Caribbean, was expected to be slow and assist spinners. But due to the early start, there was to be some assistance to the pace bowlers as well. The outfield at the picturesque Beausejour cricket field was lush, which meant its gonna be slow and there is not gonna be much value for the shots and there will be premium put on running between the wickets. South Africa, winning the toss, elected to insert India in, to take advantage of whatever assistance their pace heavy bowling line up could get from the pitch and through the air.
M. Vijay (who made his T20I debut only in the previous match) teamed up with his home state team mate Dinesh Karthik (drafted in place of Gambhir) to open the inning and what ensued was sickening to watch, as an Indian fan. One would’ve thought that these two state mates will have good understanding and be able to communicate well. There was an easy run out for the taking off the first legal delivery when both batsmen were at the same end, but AB De Villiers missed with his throw and the batsmen picked up some overthrows. Vijay wasn’t around to cash in on the reprieve as he edged one behind to get out first ball.
The ball did not come on to the bat as well as Indian batsmen would’ve liked and South Africa kept testing them with back-off length deliveries, a known weakness of Indian batters. The Indian batsmen had to dig in, see off the tough test posed by the Saffer bowlers, get their eye in and ride it out. D. Karthik didn’t seem to be in the mood to tough it out and got out trying to pull a short delivery and mistimed it to mid on. In walked Yuvraj Singh to partner Suresh Raina.
By now, Suresh Raina edged a couple, mistimed a few, got caught off a no ball but kept a positive demeanor about himself and refused to get bogged down. Yuvraj was also finding it a little hard to get a move and all that was to change in the 9th over of the inning bowled by the left arm spinner, Van de Merwe. An exquisite inside out cover drive by Raina and a slog-swept six by Yuvraj opened the flood gates. A few more 6’s followed and the score stood at 80/s after 11 overs (67/2 after 10). After circumspect starts, both Yuvraj and Raina were picking up the pace.
It was really good to see Yuvraj get back in to some sort of form and Raina continue the good work from the IPL where he won the man-of-the-final award. On the sideline during the 10th over, Zaheer Khan was being interview and he mentioned that 165-170 score is possible on this pitch. I was thinking that 140+ should do the job for India and was really surprised to see Zak look at a score that was still more than 100 runs away (With Dale Steyn yet to bowl 3 more of his overs). That was a surprising move by Greame Smith not to have Dale Steyn bowl more than 1 over upfront. May be, he was not too confident about his other bowlers in the death? There was certain element of mechanical rigidity to the SA approach. When they nipped 2 wickets up front, they should have had Steyn on to get a couple more wickets to prevent India from gathering any sort of momentum going towards the business end of the innings.
A boundary per over kept the run rate up till Rory Klienveldt came back. Raina and Yuvi, both unleashed some fury, severe on anything short. Raina was kicking on to a higher gear when Yuvi got out to rank full toss from Rory. Interestingly, Dhoni sent YK Pathan up rather than himself. The easy answer to it would be that he wanted Pathan to cause some mayhem, real quick. Dhoni is quite capable of doing the same. My thinking here is that, Dhoni is trying to figure out the role of YKP in this team. This is further supported by the fact that YKP came on to bowl in the powerplay and finished his quota of 4 overs, even though he is not the lead spinner in the team. Dhoni wants to see all the value that YKP can bring to the team on the Caribbean pitches. If all that YKP can do is a quick 10-20 and a couple of overs, it makes sense to play Rohit Sharma, who is a reasonable bowler on a spinner-friendly pitch, a better fielder, and a batsman capable of digging in as well as blasting off.
Over number 18, in my opinion, irreversibly changed the course of the game. Off the first ball of the over bowled by Kleinveldt, YKP launched one out of the ground. After a single, Raina got on strike, batting on 75 – the highest score by an Indian in T20I, tying the 75 made by Gambhir against Pakistan in 2007 T20 world cup final. Three fours and a six off the next four balls later, 25 runs had come off that fateful over.
17.3 was whacked to the long on boundary; 17.4 was smashed to the extra cover boundary; 17.5 hit right over the bowler’s head for another boundary (best of the lot) and capped off with a huge six over long-off from his knees. Ho-Hum. RAINA. The score had rocketed to 161 and Raina in to his nineties. A tight over from Steyn saw YKP get out to a slower, Raina got to the first ton by an Indian in T20I by hitting a mammoth six. That baby was a goner as soon as he made contact. Trying to repeat it he got caught at long on, for a belligerent 101 off just 60 balls and India finished on a very healthy, and more than competitive 186/5.
The run chase by South Africa was a bit befuddling, to say the least. Loots Bosman seemed out of his depth against spin and duly perished trying to push a wider one from YKP in to the covers. The Indian bowlers in the first 6 overs (power play) bowled really well, gave nothing away. Graeme Smith, the usual opener for SA, had demoted himself to number 3. Although the SA run rate was very similar to India’s for the first 10 overs, SA had to launch in to a massive assault if they were to get anywhere close to the target of 187. However, these assaults are lot more easy to do while setting the target than chasing it, as any wicket falling during the chase makes it that much harder for the incoming batsmen to keep the rate up. This is why you typically see teams go full bore in the power play while chasing a huge total.
Kallis and Smith kept the rate at 6 an over at the end of 10 overs, not taking any undue risks and hoping one of them plays the entire 20 while the rest of the batsmen chip in with cameos. At the end of 13 overs, SA were 84/1 requiring another 103 in 7 at nearly 15 an over. Of course, its not impossible but improbable. The spinners had bowled 10 of the 13 overs giving away only 71 runs in those overs (5.5 r.p.o). Brilliant effort by any standards.
Finally, Kallis decided to open up and hit a few classical looking blows off slog sweeps, down the pitch lofted drives and some pulls to make Indian fans feel a little uneasy. Graeme was run out while trying to go for a second run by an accurate throw from Praveen Kumar and some nifty glove work by Dhoni. Kallis tried to go for one too many (He had to. He put himself and the team in that position) and got out for a well made 75 but considering the situation, not well constructed.
There were a few more hits from AB De Villiers (a quick 31 at srike rate of more than 200) and Albie Morkel which gave the feeling that the game was close. The game was over in the first 6-8 overs of the chase -well, to be precise, it was over when India plundered 75 off the last 5 overs.
Now, South Africa have to beat out a plucky Afghanistan to ensure their berth in the super 8’s. Funny things have happened before, especially with South Africa. They seem to have made an art form out of the C-word – Choke. I am sure SA will brush past Afghanistan, but with rains in the offing and perhaps an uninvited appearance by their mortal enemy D/L method, this world cup could also become another chapter in the long saga of South African cricket history’s what ifs.