India give SA masterclass in how to win when it matters
London - South Africa paid a high price for five minutes of madness in their shootout with India for a Champions Trophy semi-final place at The Oval on Sunday.
That price was an anaemic total of of 191, a low hurdle that India hopped in 38 overs to win by eight wickets.
In the process, India burnished their reputation as a team who seize the moment and with it the trophy: they have won the World Cup, the Champions Trophy and the World T20 in the last 10 years.
South Africa confirmed that when the kitchen heats up they head for the garage: they have won one match in their last 19 trips to those three tournaments when elimination has loomed, and that game wasn’t a final.
AB de Villiers’ men seemed on course for a far more substantial score while Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla were compiling their partnership of 76 — South Africa’s highest opening stand in the tournament and only their second of 50 or more for any wicket.
Drama didn’t seem imminent when Amla cut Ravichandran Ashwin into MS Dhoni’s gloves in the 18th over, and when De Kock reached a half-century it was noted that all five time he had made 50 in one-day internationals against India he had gone on to a century.
Not this time. De Kock scored 53 before swiping past a delivery from Ravindra Jadeja that nailed his off-stump.
Even so, at 116/2 and not quite halfway through their innings, South Africa seemed set to post a total that could compete with India’s potent batting order …
Five overs later, the madness struck.
At 12.24pm, Faf du Plessis nudged Jadeja to point and tried to take a single that wasn’t there for the taking, and even a full length dive by De Villiers couldn’t stop one of cricket’s most fleetfooted players from being run out.
That would have been a cruel blow to absorb for South Africa’s captain, who came into the tournament as the No. 1 ranked batsman in the format but scored only four runs from the five deliveries he faced in his first two innings.
He had a shot at redemption on Sunday, and he seemed determined to take it.
But it was stolen from him by poor judgement and, perhaps, fate.
At 12.29pm, Du Plessis cut Ravichandran Ashwin to short third man, set off on a run, changed his mind and returned to his crease, and looked up to see David Miller at the same end of the pitch.
The ball was duly delivered to the other end, and after much deliberation it was decided that Miller was the one to go.
In the space of those five minutes and the six deliveries they encompassed, South Africa’s hopes of staying alive in this tournament ebbed to a new low.
Their supporters will dispute that assertion considering how many times they have been shot in this movie before — every four years since 1992.
Du Plessis was their last hope of rewriting that sorry script, but he dragged Hardik Pandya onto his stumps four overs after Miller went.
Up in the dressingroom, De Villiers sat ashen-faced and holding a pen.
Might he have been composing his resignation from the captaincy or even his international retirement?
Or was he pondering the cruelty of finishing on the wrong end of the equation in all seven knockout matches in which he has batted?
Or that he was not required to bat in the only knockout match South Africa have won during his career - the 2015 World Cup quarter-final against Sri Lanka in Sydney?
Other players looked equally distraught; the sight of De Kock, his arm draped consolingly, even protectively, around Miller’s shoulder particularly poignant.
South Africa’s last eight wickets disappeared for 51 runs, all 10 for 115, and two of them in as many deliveries by Bhuv Kumar.
Imran Tahir survived, with a squirt to third man, the hattrick ball — which was accompanied by a rising roar of demand from an apparently exclusively India-supporting, sell-out crowd.
The innings was ended by, wouldn’t you know it, Tahir’s run out.
India’s reply was more a festival than a fight.
So much so that Tahir did not take his customary tear into the outfield when he had Shikhar Dhawan caught in the deep for 78 to end a second-wicket stand of 128.
Dhawan’s partner, Virat Kohli, finished with 76 not out.
Now, there’s a man who knows his way around the kitchen.