Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s boys did their country proud by beating South Africa under trying conditions to force their entry into the Semi-Finals. The victory from the Indians was huge enough to send South Africa out of the tournament! It was simply shocking and unbelievable that the World Cup Jinx keeps on haunting the Proteas ever since they made their re-entry in International Cricket in 1992. South Africa were almost certain to have been playing in the Semis barring any ‘miracles’ and it was a miracle that India not just defeated a strong South African team, but also won in an emphatic fashion. It is more than heart breaking for the South Africans as they were chasing a not so huge target of 154 with the kind of power hitters that they have. That is one thing but the South African batsmen ridiculously couldn’t even get to the 126-run mark that could have secured their semis berth. South Africa just showed why they have been called as ‘CHOKERS’ all these years! India on the other hand would be excited not just about the win but for unearthing a new talent in Rohit Sharma who won the match with his batting.
Dhoni decides to bat first against all odds; Yuvraj is not in the team!
The homeside prepared a green track for this day night match at Kingsmead in Durban. It was a horrible wicket to play a Twenty20 Match with all the grass present to completely favour the fast and tall bowlers. A tailor-made pitch it was for the South African speedsters to run through the Indian batting. India had already lost the plot with their best batsman Yuvraj Singh unable to play because he had picked up tendonitis in his left elbow after all his lusty hitting against England the other night. Dinesh Karthik was the replacement. When Gambhir and Sehwag started the innings, the ball was flying around in both directions from Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini. There was a hell lot of seam movement that was being witnessed in what was supposed to be a game that should suit batsmen. With a bit of luck and guts, the opening pair survived and also got a few boundaries rolling to put the pressure back on Graeme Smith. In the fifth over, things changed with Gambhir miscuing one off Pollock to be caught for a run-a-ball 19 to leave India at 32 for 1 in 4.4. Dinesh Karthik came in and went back to the dug out after he had flicked Pollock straight into the hands of square leg in the first ball he had faced and India now were 33 for 2 after 5 overs. More trouble was to follow in the next ball when Virender Sehwag opened the face of the blade off an Ntini delivery to be caught behind brilliantly by Mark Boucher. One really had to be sorry for the helpless conditions for the batsmen as the new ball was virtually unplayable and with the batsmen having no time to get used to the conditions, it looked like match over for the Indians.
Shaun Pollock was used on the trot and on his home ground, he knew where to bowl to finish at a mean 2 for 17 in 4 overs. India now just hung in there for a few overs through Robin Uthappa and young Rohit Sharma. Robin showed glimpses of his cool temperament by hooking Johannes van der wath for the first six of the innings. Uthappa (15 from 16) played one shot too many to lose his wicket and India slipped to 61 for 4 in the 11th. Morne Morkel took his wicket after Uthappa had uppishly driven him to mid off. The Indian Captain walked in with his team in a crisis but he did the sensible thing in holding back his big shots to build a partnership with Rohit Sharma. And when the time was ripe, the attempted big shots came off, a few boundaries coming through edges and a few from the middle, it just didn’t matter as India started to get something decent on the board. After a verbal clash with Morne Morkel, Dhoni gave his reply with a majestic pick up shot for a six in the 17th over and the next over saw Rohit Sharma pulled off a stylish and sweetly timed flick off a full toss from Johannes van der wath for his first six. The last over saw MS Dhoni getting run out trying to sneak in a second run in front of the wicket keeper with still another two deliveries to go. Irfan Pathan played the penultimate ball, got beaten but managed to run a bye. The last ball was a difficult full toss from van der Wath but Rohit Sharma somehow managed to get lot of bat in his slog to find a six over square leg that not only brought up his fifty but also lifted India to 153 for 5. Rohit’s 50 unbeaten runs came in 40 balls with the help of 7 fours and a six. The South Africa fielding for once looked bad with more than three chances not being taken much to the anger of their fielding coach Jonty Rhodes.
Proteas choke after a superb opening spell from RP
Not many runs to defend for the Indians and the first ball from Sreesanth made it even more difficult as five wides slipped down the legside. A real bad first over from Sreesanth saw SA knock off 11 runs. RP Singh at the other end had different ideas though. He ran in smoothly to get a dream inswinger that rapped Gibbs in front of the stumps to dismiss him lbw. Gibbs wasn’t pleased with the decision and was right as the ball would have carried on to go over the top. After another couple of deliveries, a spectacle was seen when little Dinesh Karthik flew full length to his left to pull off a sensational catch at second slip to end Graeme Smith’s stay. Catches win Matches they say and perhaps this was going to be the one that lifted the spirits of the Indian team. A superb over it was from RP taking two wickets at the cost of just the one run. After taking that catch, Dinesh Karthik found himself donning the wicket keeping gloves because of Dhoni picking up a back injury and the captain fielded at mid off with all the tape on his fingers! In the next over, Sreesanth came good for his team to trap AB de Villiers in the crease twice and on the second occasion, the Umpire adjudged the batsman lbw to have SA at a shaky 12 for 3 in 2.3 overs. Now the required run rate was climbing up quickly and South Africa could get their runs only through the frequent wides sent by Sreesanth and RP Singh.
India still had plenty of work to do to win the game as they had to get rid of the dangerous Justin Kemp who was along with the reliable Mark Boucher. Kemp started to get going with a pull shot but a slight hesitancy in going for a quick single saw him lose his wicket. Once again the fielding did the difference for India and this time it was Rohit Sharma firing a direct hit at the striker’s end in his dive after running in from covers . RP Singh in the very next ball provided the icing on the cake for his team by going through the defences of Shaun Pollock with an incoming delivery from round the sticks. Pollock was out for a first-ball duck and now India could smell victory with SA at 31 for 5 in 5.5. Now the question that was asked was whether SA would settle for the 126-mark or the original target which seemed to be a long distance away. India started to lose the plot when India had to resort to the second string pacers in Joginder Sharma and Irfan Pathan. Joginder in particular couldn’t get a hold of things but Pathan every now and then kept the pressure by beating both Boucher and the left handed Albie Morkel. South Africa could finally break the shackles in the 13th over when Harbhajan’s first over was taken for three consecutive boundaries by Boucher that took them to 77 for 5. Now the victory was very far away, 77 to win from 42 and the more sensible thing was to settle for the 126 for SA. Harbhajan and Pathan made that difficult with their excellent bowling and SA started to hit the panic button when Sreesanth got Boucher to play onto his stumps in the 17th over. What was ironic of that dismissal was that the bowler took a long time to realize that the bails had come down otherwise Sreesanth was seen disappointed that Boucher’s inside edge ran away down to fine leg for a boundary. Boucher made 36 in 41 leaving SA 26 short of the qualifying score.
India were certain to win this match and Harbhajan Singh became the villain for the South African lower middle order as he bowled his doosras at will. Bhajji deceived Philander with a doosra to get him stumped by a sharp Dinesh Karthik in the 18th over and with 17 to get from 8 balls, RP Singh cleaned up Albie Morkel with a full and fast delivery. Albie made 36 from 37 with 2 fours and a six which was just not enough to save SA. In the final over, Proteas required 17 to go to the semis against Harbhajan. There was a tiny hope in the form of the big hitting Johannes van der Wath but Harbhajan made him look silly with his doosra. Towards the end, South Africa finished disappointingly at 116 for 9! The South African Captain Graeme Smith was almost in tears during the Presentation! The Man of the Match was a close call between Rohit Sharma and RP Singh who had an amazing figures of 4-0-13-4. It went to Rohit Sharma instead as he was the one who gave RP Singh a total to bowl at! India now with their huge win have allowed New Zealand to get into the Semis at the cost of SA. In the first semis at Cape Town, New Zealand meet Pakistan and India stay here at Durban to take on Australia with both matches scheduled on the 22nd.