Rohit Sharma struck his 23rd One-Day International century after a superb bowling effort from Yuzvendra Chahal and Co to help India clinch a six-wicket win in their opening match of the ICC World Cup against a hapless South Africa in Southampton on Wednesday.
Rohit survived a jittery start on a tricky pitch to face the new ball and then went on to make the most of it, on his way to a second World Cup century. He was not out at the end on 122 off 144 balls, as India won with 15 balls to spare.
Kagiso Rabada provided hope for South Africa with a fiery opening spell where he dismissed Shikhar Dhawan for 8 off 12 balls. Rabada also came close on a couple of occasions to dismiss Rohit, who took his time to get going before playing a classy innings.
Virat Kohli (18 off 34) did not score a century in a World Cup opener for the first time in his career (after starting 2011 and 2015 with tons) – the Indian captain was off to a patient start but just when he started to push on, Quinton de Kock produced a stunning catch. Phehlukwayo and the Proteas were offered hope.
KL Rahul, selected to bat at No 4, steadied the ship with Rohit for company. Rabada ended that partnership and then it was MS Dhoni’s turn to play the anchor role along with the Mumbaikar. When Dhoni fell for 34 in the 47th over, the match was all but done.
And all the while, Rohit kept plugging away at the target and survived a couple of reprieves late in the innings from a deflated Proteas unit to finish unbeaten. The winning runs were scored by Hardik Pandya, who came in and hit a few stylish boundaries to make it an easy enough outing for India.
Shaky batting from Proteas
Earlier, leg-spinner Chahal was the pick of the bowlers as India restricted South Africa to 227 for 9.
Chahal returned figures of 4/51 to rip the heart out of the South African batting line-up, to the delight of a large contingent of Indian fans.
Chris Morris, batting at number eight, provided late resistance with his fighting 42 during an eighth-wicket partnership of 66 with Rabada, who made an unbeaten 31 – his highest one-day international total.
Jasprit Bumrah did the early damage, dismissing both openers to put South Africa, who desperately needed a win after defeats in their opening two games, in deep trouble.
Chahal bowled Rassie van der Dussen for 22 with the first ball of his second over to end a 54-run third-wicket partnership.He then bowled skipper Du Plessis for 38 later in the same over.
Spin partner Kuldeep Yadav also chipped in with the wicket of JP Duminy, trapping the batsman lbw for three as South Africa slipped to 89/5.
David Miller and Andile Phehlukwayo then put on 46 runs to slow India’s charge and keep the scoreboard ticking over.
But Chahal once again made the breakthrough, dismissing both batsmen. Miller was caught and bowled for 31 while Phehlukwayo was stumped on 34.
Bumrah provides the perfect start
After du Plessis opted to bat first, Bumrah, the world’s top-ranked one-day international bowler, had the ball darting around on a cloudy morning in Southampton as he sent back Hashim Amla for six.
Amla, who missed South Africa’s previous match against Bangladesh, defended a delivery with extra bounce from Bumrah but got an outside edge and was caught at second slip by Rohit Sharma.
Bumrah then struck again in his next over, with Quinton de Kock, who made 10, edging to skipper Virat Kohli at third slip, meaning South Africa were two down for 24.
But some counter-attacking batting late in the innings from Morris, who hit a boundary and two sixes during his 34-ball knock, gave the South Africans something to bowl at.
South Africa have been hit by a spate of injuries, with pace spearhead Dale Steyn making an early exit from the tournament without playing a game.
India, among the favourites, were playing their first game in the round-robin event, which concludes on July 14 in London.
(With AFP inputs)