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India’s supermen were pelted with the cricketing equivalent of Kryptonite on Thursday evening as South Africa thrashed them by 141 runs in the first ODI at the Wanderers. If it wasn’t bad enough conceding 358 after being given the best of bowling conditions, India’s tackling of the gigantic chase was even more execrable – unless you were not Indian, or prone to drawing vicarious gratification from the suffering of others: a little schadenfreude, if you please!
Even if, for a moment, one chose to overlook the hiding that Quinton de Kock (135), Hashim Amla (65), AB de Villiers (77) and JP Duminy (59*) inflicted upon their guests – this is, after all, the age of batsmen – Rohit Sharma, in the 43 uncomfortable deliveries he faced at the beginning of the pursuit, symbolized all that ails Indian cricket.
The Mumbai opener entered the series on a rich vein of form and comparisons with a recently-retired legend. As it happened, he took 14 deliveries to get bat on ball, his first runs coming off a lucky leading edge. The other stalwarts of this star-studded batting card fared no better in seaming conditions, as India were bundled out for 217 in just 41 overs.
Sharma (18) was eventually run-out (the fourth batsman to fall) after surviving countless plays and misses against Steyn. The three batsmen who preceded him into the pavilion had looked equally incompetent. Shikhar Dhawan (12) was done in by a Morne Morkel delivery that hurried and rose on to him. Virat Kohli (31) was dropped by de Kock and struck a painful blow to the ribs by Steyn. He went on to crunch out a few retaliatory strokes before falling to a searing Ryan McLaren outswinger.
The cameras had caught a pensive Yuvraj Singh awaiting his turn. His stint lasted all of two balls, on the second of which McLaren flattened his middle stump. David Miller’s under-arm accuracy from cover ended Rohit’s agonizing stay, and a few overs later, Suresh Raina, equally scratchy anywhere except on the soporific pitches at home, was caught just short of his ground by what was almost a direct hit from deep square-leg by Steyn.
At 108/5 in the 23rd over, it was all but over. A face-saving half-century by skipper MS Dhoni (65) whittled away at the margin of defeat. There was, however, no escaping the humiliation that stems from the puncturing of big reputations.
South Africa had earlier accorded a severe welcome to their guests. De Kock and Amla, playing in an all-pink kit, added 152 in less than 30 overs for the opening wicket (the second-highest opening wicket stand by SA against India in SA) after Dhoni elected to field. India, however, squandered a couple of chances to dismiss either batsman early in their innings.
Amla was handed a run-out reprieve when he had scored seven as Dhawan failed to knock down the stumps at the non-striker’s end. Then, in the seventh over, de Kock slashed Sharma to square leg where Shami dove forward valiantly, but vainly, to take it on the bounce. The next ball saw Amla’s leading edge fall tantalizingly short of Rohit at cover point.
The bearded one rubbed it in by punishing Bhuvneshwar for four and six – the latter a casual flick that soared over square-leg and clattered into the giant scoreboard. De Kock was even more assertive. Having milked the seamers, he switched gars when spin came on in the 15th over, cutting R. Ashwin for fours and then sweeping him authoritatively from outside off stump.
The Proteas were coasting on 150 without losing a wicket in 29 overs when they opted for the Batting Powerplay and, as is often the case, promptly lost their first. Amla was the victim, playing on as he attempted to run Shami down to third man. Another victim of the Powerplay was Kallis, who was caught at extra cover trying to clear the infield off Shami.
De Kock remained unfazed. Successive boundaries off Bhuvneshwar took him into the 90s and a free-hit six against Mohit brought him to 98. A single and de Kock was on his second ODI ton, his first on his homeground, in just 101 balls.
It took Kohli’s part-time medium pace to get the lucky break when he held a simple return catch to send back the centurion.
It was then that de Villiers and Duminy stole the game. They shredded a clueless seam attack hellbent on hurling in length balls (and nothing else!) for 105 runs in just 7.4 overs.
One-hundred-and-thirty-five were score in the last 10 overs, as Duminy smashed 59 off just 29 balls, clearing the ropes five times during his blinder, the pick of his strikes being an inside out maximum off Mohit.
De Villiers was no slouch. His 47-ball 77 included four sixes, one of them an unbelievable quasi-sweep that he, on bended knee, picked from wide outside off-stump and deposited over fine-leg. That remained the definitive moment of the match – until the sight of a hard red ball scrunching portentously into the ribs of India’s leading batsman replaced it.