It is often said that history is great indicator of what to expect in a clash between two teams. Thus, when India took on Pakistan at Adelaide, many believed that that they had a significant advantage over their arch-rivals since they had never lost to Pakistan in the World Cup. Similarly, when India took on South Africa at the imposing Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), this Sunday, the latter were expected to hold the edge since India had never beaten them in the World Cup. However, it must be said that India came up with a brilliant all-round effort to sink the South Africans. India were so good with the bat, ball and in the field, it can be said they beat South Africa at their own game.
Winning the toss gave India a significant edge, and they batted very sensibly to post a big total on the board in spite of having lost Rohit Sharma early to a brilliant direct hit by AB de Villiers. India's batting was the story of two partnerships, one between Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli that set up a very good platform for India, and the second between Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane that took India to a total from where they could put a lot of pressure on the South African batting. Once India had put the runs on the board, the bowlers found the right line and length, never allowed South Africa to settle. It was a complete performance by India.
Dhawan was undoubtedly the hero of the match for India. In spite of the fact that he had got a 70 in the last game, his place in the team was still under scrutiny since he had such a wretched run in Australia prior to the World Cup. But, the time spent out in the middle against Pakistan definitely gave the left hander a lot of confidence as he went into bat against South Africa. It was evident in the way he paced his innings. The fact that Dhawan had hit a hundred against the same opponent in the Champions Trophy in 2013 at Cardiff would also have been fresh in his mind. Once he got his eye in, Dhawan played strokes all round the ground, and only reiterated what a dangerous player he can be on days when he gets his act right.
Dhawan's performance undoubtedly stood out. But, India cannot ignore the efforts of Rahane and Kohli in the match. The former in particular played a key role in helping India put up a big a big total on the board. Coming in at the loss of Kohli's wicket, he hit boundaries from the word go and upped the run rate. What his ferocious hitting ensured was it allowed Dhawan to take his time at the other end. And when both of them fired in tandem, South Africa were in complete tatters. And, while Kohli would have been disappointed to have not carried on after getting his eye in, he did help Dhawan in overcoming the early loss of Rohit. Although they batted with caution, the period during which they kept wickets aided them in the end.
It's easier to bowl well when you have a 300 plus score on the board. Still, India's bowlers need to be commended for the manner in which they outdid the South Africans right through the innings. Mohammed Shami was extremely impressive at the top with his pace and accuracy as well. For once, he did not spray too many balls down the leg side, and was rewarded aptly. Umesh Yadav wasn't as lucky with wickets, but he did keep things tight from one end. Mohit Sharma was a contentious choice for the third seamer, but he did his chances no harm with a steady bowling performance, and Ravichandran Ashwin was among the wickets for the second time in as many games.
India certainly have lifted their game in the first two matches. Whether they can maintain the momentum remains to be seen.
--By A Cricket Analyst