Champions Trophy: Shikhar Dhawan's breath of fresh air leaves Boks to choke... again
India 331-7 South Africa 305 (India won by 26 runs)
Perhaps it was premature to call it choking but there was a definite throaty gargle by South Africa. In losing the opening match of the Champions Trophy by 26 runs to India they may have given notice of what they are capable later in the month.
Defeat was always likely following a commanding maiden one-day century by Shikhar Dhawan, but they gave it what the statisticians have come to call an assist. South Africa's reputation for being eliminated at the business stages of major limited-overs competitions – for being chokers, that is – is often unkindly directed but it has been hard-earned down the years.
Although India's 331 for seven was always likely to be beyond reach, they had matters in control at 155 for two in the 25th over. Almost inevitably, they then mucked it up with a medley of lapses, including two crazy run-outs which effectively terminated the contest.
The late revival which took them as close as they got was slightly more than window dressing, but the clatter of wickets had done for them.
AB de Villiers, South Africa's captain, said: "Sometimes you're not in the same mindwave as your partner in the heat of battle with the pressure on but it was unforced errors that cost us dearly."
On reflection (a phrase which must have cropped up in their dressing room on myriad occasions) they might have chosen to bat first on the Sophia Gardens pitch in Cardiff. Then again, no side batting first had won any of the seven completed one-day internationals at the ground.
India batted sublimely at the start, and it swiftly became apparent that if Dale Steyn does not recover from his side strain, their exit from the competition will follow. He adds a cutting edge which his cohorts could not quite replace.
Dhawan, who played five one-day internationals two years ago and made a spectacular 187 from 174 balls in his first and, so far, only Test innings in March, was breathtaking in his selection of shot. He and Rohit Sharma put on 127 for India in an all-new first-wicket partnership, presumably devised overnight.
They started without risk but from the fifth over on were rampant, clearing and piercing the field to the delight of a packed house which largely contained Indian supporters. At one stage a total of 400 looked within their scope but South Africa, whose injury concerns were compounded when Morne Morkel left the field with a quadriceps injury, refused to go quietly.
They overcame the loss of two early wickets as De Villiers and Robin Peterson played in an attacking yet measured fashion which put them up with the required rate. Peterson went for a single which his captain decided was not there, three wickets fell in six balls soon after, including another run-out when Faf de Plessis slipped, and that seemed quite enough.
Some joyful left-handed hitting by Ryan McLaren ensured it did not end quietly, but India usually looked as if they knew what they were doing.
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