Defending champions, India cantered to a 130-run win against South Africa at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to strengthen their position at the top of the Group B table.
Shikhar Dhawan’s (137) partnerships with Virat Kohli for 127 runs and his stand with Ajinkya Rahane (79 0ff 60) helped India set a 308-run target for the Proteas.
Mohammad Shami led the attack to keep the Proteas batsmen on a tight leash with disciplined bowling while sharp fielding stifled the batsmen. After the pacer’s 5-1-15-1 first spell set the tone, the opposition’s batting line-up disintegrated chasing the challenging target. Shami and Mohit Sharma picked two each while R Ashwin claimed three as SA folded for 177 runs.
Earlier, after MS Dhoni elected to bat first, India were tied down by Dale Steyn who started the proceedings with a maiden to keep the batsmen under the pressure in the mandatory powerplay. It was on the tenth ball of the innings that Dhawan opened India’s account by hitting Vernon Philander to the square-leg boundary. Tight bowling complemented by excellent fielding kept the Indians in check in the initial stages of the match. SA looked in charge as a direct hit from AB de Villiers at mid-off had India on 9/1. The SA captain dove to stop the cracking shot by Dhawan and ran Rohit Sharma out at the non-striker’s end.
But Kohli and Dhawan gradually took control of the innings with a carefully stitched partnership. After watchfully seeing off the powerplay overs, they gleaned runs off the SA attack and muscled their way forward. With Philander out of the attack due to a hamstring concern after bowling just the four overs, SA were a bowler short and India cashed in on Wayne Parnell.
While Kohli played the supporting role, Dhawan took on the attack. After settling in, the pair pierced the outfield at regular intervals to keep the run-rate steady and laid a solid foundation. Dhawan, who had reached his fifty with a boundary in front of third-man, was awarded a life on 53 as Hashim Amla failed to hold on to the catch at backward point.
From then on Parnell was singled out for special treatment by the batsmen. Dhawan smacked him in the front and edged him to the fence past the wicketkeeper as he worked to up the ante once India was past the three figure mark. But with the side on 136, the solid second wicket stand ended for 127 as Kohli hit Imran Tahir to short mid-wicket.
Ajinkya Rahane changed the pace of the game with some breathtaking stroke-play. With pressure shifting to the fielding side SA too fumbled in the field. The middle-order bat motored away to 79 (7x4, 3x6). He dabbed and nudged the ball to build the tempo with singles and twos and then pulled, drove and caressed it to the boundary as he hit the high notes. At the other end, Dhawan was making the most of the life awarded to him as he neared his century in a crucial game. He bid his time as JP Duminy and Parnell worked him before he brought it up with a boundary through point region.
With India comfortably perched on 183/2 and raring to go, de Villiers commenced the batting powerplay with spinners and the batsmen cashed in on the opportunity. Rahane whacked Duminy over extra cover and past the keeper en route to collecting 12 runs from the over while Dhawan sent Tahir racing to the fence to pick nine from the next. Although Steyn brought back into attack for a brief spell, conceded only two in his first, Dhawan lofted a slower delivery by the pacer over mid-on for six and with a four posted his highest ODI score in his next. Rahane pummeled Morkel for couple of boundaries.
As they looked to accelerate in the last ten overs, Dhawan slammed Morkel over backward square-leg for six while Rahane lofted Parnell over the ropes. Both batsmen were dealing in sixes when the opener was felled by the combination which earlier had a chance dismissing him. Looking for another big hit he was caught by Amla at long-leg off Parnell.
In the following over Raina departed taking the aerial route off Morkel. As wickets continued to fall in the death overs, India couldn’t capitalise as well on the platform as they would have liked. Rahane was trapped plumb in front of the wicket by Steyn after hitting the ace pacer for a six. An over later, de Villiers’ strong arm ran Ravindra Jadeja out. Although MS Dhoni hit a hat-trick of boundaries off Parnell to bring India within sniffing distance off the 300-run mark, he departed edging a short-ball from Morkel to Quinton de Kock. However, Mohammed Shami’s swing at Steyn to pick a boundary in the last over saw India go past 300.
Defending the total, Shami accounted for de Kock as the opener, looking to drive, was caught by Kohli diving forward at mid-off for seven. A while later, the Indian fielders who had kept the batsmen on their toes, missed an opportunity to run out Amla despite an excellent throw from Rahane at cover. Thankfully for India it didn’t prove too costly as the opener pulled a short ball from Mohit Sharma and was caught for 22 by Shami towards long-leg.
68 runs later the budding Faf du Plessis – de Villiers partnership was nipped before it reached threatening proportions. Sharp fielding by Mohit and Dhoni’s lightening reflexes sent back the SA captain who is known for pulling out improbable wins.
With the Indian bowlers keeping the flow of runs in check and alert fielding, India maintained their stranglehold on the game. With runs coming at a premium the batsmen were under pressure. Five overs later, du Plessis who had played admirably for his half-century, departed hitting Mohit to Dhawan at mid-off.
SA’s woes continued as Duminy, who then joined David Miller in the middle, gloved Ravichandran Ashwin to Raina in the slips to return for six. With the side reeling on 147/5, Parnell came out to bat. Couple of overs later, Miller sweeping Ashwin found Umesh Yadav in the deep, who swooped on the ball and threw it to Dhoni. The India captain flicked off the bails to run Miller out by a whisker while diving in for a second run. With the SA line-up was in shambles there was little that the long tail could do. Philander was out lbw a ball later, while Dale Steyn departed hitting Shami to cover point. And while Ashwin castled Morkel, Jadeja accounted for Tahir to wrap-up the SA innings.
India 307/7 in 50 overs (S Dhawan 137, A Rahane 79, M Morkel 2/59) beat South Africa 177 all out in 40.2 overs (F du Plessis 55, R Ashwin 3/41, M Shami 2/31, M Sharma 2/31) by 130 runs
Man of the match: Shikhar Dhawan for his match-winning knock