With much of the country focused on the Springboks and their quest for a third Rugby World Cup title, the Proteas are flying a bit under the radar as they begin their Indian tour with three T20 matches followed by five ODIs and four Tests. The tour, which has been named the Mahatma Gandhi-Nelson Mandela Series, kicked off with the first T20 match in Dharamsala at the iconic Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium on Friday.
The hosts batted first with Kyle Abbott delivering the first ball of the tour to Rohit Sharma. Sharma’s opening partner, Shikhar Dhawan was unlucky when he was dismissed after just 3.1 overs. A slight misfielding by the Proteas saw Sharma attempt a second run, but De Villiers was able to knock the bails off just millimeters before Dhawan could get back. Virat Kohli came in next and combined well with Rohit, knocking in four boundaries. Rohit easily reached 51 off 39 balls and India were positioning themselves well to win the first T20 match in front of the home crowd. Kohli was unlucky to miss out on a half century when he was caught by JP Duminy on 43. Sharma notched 103 off 62 balls, a thoroughly dominating batting performance against the South African bowling attack. Yet with Kohli and Sharma gone it seemed suddenly the fire in the Indian batting lineup had been extinguished. Surech Raina was dismissed lbw after 14 runs, while Ambati Rayudu was run out on his first ball. MS Dhoni and Axar Patel put up 22 combined runs to finish out the 20 overs leaving South Africa needing 200 to win, by no means an easy run chase for the Proteas.
The visitors did not have the singular firepower of Rohit Sharma, but they were able to put together some excellent partnerships, something that has occasionally been lacking in the side in this format of recent. Amla and De Villiers put up 77 runs before Hash was run out. De Villiers was dismissed two overs later after reaching 51 runs. When South African captain Faf du Plessis was bowled after just four runs, the visitors looked to be in a tough spot needing 105 runs off less than 10 overs. Fortunately for South Africa fans, JP Duminy had himself an excellent night at the crease where he racked up 68 runs not out off just 34 balls, including a huge six to tie the match followed by the winning single.
Led by Duminy’s seven 6s, the Proteas got off to exactly the start they wanted on this tour with a good win. This was a solid performance from South Africa especially after the way Sharma came out and punished the bowlers. The successful run chase will certainly give them some courage to go on and try to close out the T20 series today in Cuttack.
For India, it was a match that against most teams would have resulted in a win. They will need a bit more from their bowlers and lower order batsmen if they want to make this a series. These are two teams playing some excellent cricket at the moment, so here is to hoping that the rest of the tour is as exciting as the opening T20 was on Friday.