Superb batting at the death by centurions Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers, who lashed 78 runs in the last five overs, accelerated South Africa to a daunting 365 for two after they had won the toss and batted first.
Against such a massive total, the Indian run chase always seemed to be dying a slow death.
New-ball bowlers Dale Steyn and Lonwabo Tsotsobe each picked up an early wicket as Dinesh Karthik fell for 11 and Murali Vijay for 25.
Steyn lured Karthik into driving uppishly at a slower ball and being caught at mid-off, while Tsotsobe ripped a lifter into Vijay’s gloves and had him caught behind.
Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma then added 95 for the third wicket but few people would have bet on India winning as those runs came off 118 balls as spinners Roelof van der Merwe and Johan Botha took responsibility for strangling the batsmen.
Rohit eventually decided to target Botha but was embarrassed to fall to a leg-side full toss, swinging it straight to Tsotsobe at deep square-leg. Rohit’s innings ended on 48 off 61 balls.
India’s hopes then effectively died in the next over as Dale Steyn returned and had Mahendra Singh Dhoni (nine) and Virat Kohli (57) caught behind by Mark Boucher.
Boucher’s catch to dismiss Dhoni was an absolute ripper, the veteran diving full-length to his right and taking the ball one-handed.
Tsotsobe also returned to pick up the wicket of the dangerous Yusuf Pathan for five, caught at long-off, but Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja then took the batting powerplay and immediately upped the run-rate.
The pair blazed 55 runs in those five overs, but the betting man was still against India as they needed 130 in 13 overs with just three wickets in hand, Raina (49 off 30 balls) contriving to hit a Botha full toss to long-off where 12th man Wayne Parnell took a fine leaping catch.
It was Van der Merwe, typically, who killed them off for good, trapping Shanthakumaran Sreesanth lbw for a single with an excellent ball that turned sharply, and then quelling enthusiastic debutant Abhimanyu Mithun’s 24 off 23 balls by having him well-stumped by Boucher. Mithun had just left the safety of his crease and was surprised by a high full toss.
Jadeja, who scored a run-a-ball 36, had been unable to egg the tail on to impossible feats and he was caught behind in the 45th over, swishing at Tsotsobe.
It was a gala performance all round by South Africa, with Steyn (three for 37 in eight) leading an attack in which Van der Merwe (two for 47 in 10) and Tsotsobe (three for 58 in 9.3) also shone.
Earlier, Kallis and De Villiers scored centuries at contrasting rates but of equal quality give South Africa an imposing total.
The duo combined for a scintillating unbeaten third-wicket stand of 173 in 17 overs for South Africa to make their highest ever total against India and their fourth highest overall.
Kallis once again showed that calls for him to accelerate earlier are largely misplaced: he took his time to play himself in, scoring his first boundary off his 46th ball, taking him to 30. His half-century came off 68 balls and he notched his 17th ODI century off 92 deliveries. His last 74 runs came off 48 balls as he finished on a majestic 104 not out off 94 deliveries with five fours and three sixes.
While Kallis paced his innings superbly and generally played with unflustered brilliance, it was clear De Villiers had declared war on the Indian bowlers from the outset.
His aggression, ability to improvise and superb ball-striking were crucial at the death as he lifted South Africa from a good total to a daunting one. De Villiers finished with an exceptional 102 not out off just 59 balls, with 11 fours and three sixes. His century came off just 58 balls, the seventh fastest in history and second best for South Africa after Mark Boucher’s 44-ball effort against Zimbabwe in Potchefstroom in 2006/7.
Ironically, it was only after the batting powerplay, which produced 44 runs with just three fours and a six, that Kallis and De Villiers really upped the pace. The powerplay ended with South Africa on 287 for two, but Kallis and De Villiers ripped into the next over, bowled by Sudeep Tyagi, with two sixes and a four as 19 runs came off it.
Kallis and De Villiers each hit a pair of boundaries in the 48th over bowled by Abhimanyu Mithun, which also cost 19 runs, and a flurry of sixes and fours saw another 36 runs come off the last two overs as South Africa plundered 78 runs in the last five.
De Villiers’s furious hitting and Kallis’s elegant strokeplay were made possible by an opening partnership of 113 in 15.4 overs between Loots Bosman and Hashim Amla.
Amla is in form to die for and he looked in total control as he breezed to 87 off 103 balls before he top-edged a sweep off left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja to deep backward square-leg. Amla totted up eight fours and his ability to find the boundary with classic cricket shots in the early overs when the field is up, and his skill in manipulating the ball into gaps and rotating the strike is most useful in the top-order.
It was Bosman who initially had the Indian tiger by the tail and a no-ball from Shanthakumaran Sreesanth when he had 18, the batsman turning the ball straight to short midwicket, cost the home side dearly.
Bosman survived to tear into the bowling with 68 off 46 balls, with seven fours and four sixes, and had just begun to really motor when he unfortunately got out.
Bosman, having hit a six earlier in the over, moved down the wicket to Yusuf Pathan but his lofted drive was sliced and Jadeja was able to grab a good catch at deep extra cover.
Amla and Kallis then ensured India could not wriggle off the hook, patiently adding 79 in 17 overs to put South Africa in a cosy position after the middle overs.
Jadeja was the best of the Indian bowlers and looks an outstanding talent as he took one for 53 in 10 overs, but the other Indian bowlers simply could not put the ball in the hole when they needed too.
Sreesanth was the most expensive in the innings, conceding 83 in nine overs, while off-spinner Rohit Sharma joined him in going for more than nine runs an over. Seamers Tyagi and Mithun conceded 59 and 63 runs respectively in their eight overs.
Off-spinner Yusuf claimed one wicket and did not give the ball much air as he went for “just” 66 runs in his 10 overs.
Source: SuperCricket – February 27, 2010 / KEN BORLAND