Team India had their batting worries even before they played their first match in the cricket world cup, with both their openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan being in terribly poor form. No team would be blessed to have extremely talented openers as that of Rohit-Dhawan pair but when your best batsmen at the top of the order are in bad form, especially when you are into the world cup with people behind you, the entire nation and fans have high expectations from you due to your legends and ranking, it would hurt you, mainly if you are the captain of the team or the think tank in the dugout.
But legends rise to the occasion.
If not both, at least one of this pair rose to the occasion and in such a great way that all appreciations flowed his way. Yes, I am speaking about India’s Hitman, Rohit Sharma and the great innings he played to take India home with their first win in their first encounter of the world cup against South Africa.
India was playing their first match in the world cup against South Africa who had already lost their first two matches. If it was important for India to start with a confidence boosting win, it was equally important for South Africa to make a win out of this match to keep their hopes alive in this tournament.
South Africa, winning the toss and batting first never looked like they were playing in their comfort zone. They looked like playing defensive, on the back foot, especially after they had lost the first two matches, to make sure that they win this one against India. It is quite understandable. But I will not take away the credit from the Indian bowlers who bowled with such discipline that they crafted the way for Indian win in the first half of the match itself. It was Jasprit Bumrah, the Indian superman with the ball, who has been producing wonderful spells in every match he plays off late and has been a bad dream for every batsman, who gave a superb start for India. He broke havoc in the South African camp as he dismissed Hashim Amla who was returning after an injury and Quinton de Kock in quick succession keeping the Proteas at 24/2 in 6 overs. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar tightened the things and choked the run flow from the other end. To add to the woes of South Africa, Yuzvendra Chahal proved lethal. He dismissed 4 South African batsmen and made sure that the opponents did not settle down to make a big total. Hardik Pandya and Kuldeep Yadav provided the essential support from the other end.
At 89/5 in 23 overs with all known batsmen back in the pavilion India would have wished to chase a target close to 160 or 170 runs even if the lower order resisted. But India messed it up in the last 10 overs and let things loose as South Africa finished 227 for 9 in 50 overs. At a point, they were never looking to play out the entire allotted overs. Thanks to late assault and counter-attack by the lower order Leland Phehlukwayo, Chris Morris and Kagiso Rabada who came up with useful contributions. India were chasing 50 runs more than what they had expected to do. And whatever South Africa had scored was not less, seeing the depth of their bowling. But the bad news was that Dale Steyn was ruled out of the world cup due to injury and Ngidi was down and out for the same reason. So they bowled with deficit strength.
India always fancied their chances to chase this total down in quick time. But Kagiso Rabada spelt menace to the Indian Batting order. Both openers Shikhar and Rohit played defensive because they could not make big shots. The South African bowling was tight, straight, disciplined and up to the mark. Rabada and Morris dried up the Indian scoring. After early loss of Dhawan’s wicket, India was struggling at 14 runs on board in 7 overs. Even the versatile Virat Kohli was taken back and had no clue where to gather the runs from. When India lost Kohli who atypically played in his shell, almost scoring nothing, it looked like getting to the winning runs was an uphill task for Indian batsmen. 227 now looked like 350. Then the hitman opened up. He slowly started taking the attack to the opposition. He just needed good support from the other end and that was ably provided by useful contributions from K.L.Rahul and M.S.Dhoni.
Two big partnerships between Rohit and Rahul and later between Rohit and Dhoni made sure that India were cruising along towards the winning lane. South Africa bowlers too did not have any weapons left to attack once they had a clue that the Indian Batsmen were batting sensibly and not throwing their wickets. They were waiting for Indian batsmen to make mistakes but India played sensibly and with utmost caution. After all the hard work, they are not going to throw away this match. Rohit Sharma was the pioneer of this Indian win. Though it was not a typically hitman innings it was a super mature innings which came at the right time when India needed the most. To see Rohit bat with grit, like a saint was fascinating. Rohit guided India home with his superb ton. He remained unbeaten on 122 while Hardik Pandya gave the finishing touches in the way in which only he can bat. India won the match with 2 and half overs to spare.
What could have been an easy match for India was made difficult by the South African tail batsmen. What could have proved to be difficult was well sorted out by the hitman.
Chahal would have been easily the man of the match had India limited South Africa to 160 runs and easily chased it down. But those extra 50-60 runs that India chased in the difficult conditions to chase on a tricky wicket, the up-rise of hitman, and that important ton made Rohit Sharma the hero of the match. One needs to see that Rohit had scored more than half of the chase. And he dominated every partnership. The others stood and watched, just he played, and just he won the match for India.
India is considered as one of the contenders for winning this world cup and people have high expectations from Kohli and his boys. Kohli said that the expectations on his team are for the entire year and not just for the world cup and they have learnt to manage this pressure for years, during his pre-match interview. It is a statement of confidence. I wish that this does not open up the gates of being over-confidence for him or his team. But as starters, India will take this match and tick off a win column against one of the strongest teams in the competitions.
On the other side, team South Africa has lost three matches in a row. This will surely hurt them. Now they need to win almost every match they play and that would definitely be an acid test for their team. But strong teams and good teams will sort out their tough moments. I wish South Africa plan and execute everything they need to do to win their next match. I just hate seeing them being knocked out of contention tight in the mid-way of the tournament. They are not that bad side isn’t it?