Johannesburg: In front of a packed stadium, with massive Indian support, and on a wicket that was as flat as a highway, India out-batted South Africa, beating them by 28 runs to take a 1-0 lead in the three-T20 series at the Wanderers on Sunday.
Rohit Sharma’s early onslaught on the weak Proteas bowling, taking 21 off nine deliveries, set the tone before Shikhar Dhawan tore them to shreds, making 72 off 39 balls, his fourth T20 half-century.
Valuable contribution from others, including skipper Virat Kohli, took India to 203, their best total in the format against South Africa.
While the Proteas batting showed some heart, much more than in their ODI series loss, maintaining a scoring rate of over eight-and-a-half, it was always going to be too much in the end.
They had been pushed on the backfoot even before the game begun, after AB de Villiers was ruled out due to knee injury.
Without their top stars, South Africa, who usually play T20s with only a handful of top players, were all the more poorer, paving the way for India to top their ODI series victory with a winning start in the T20s.
India’s top order, compared to that of South Africa, has been in sublime form in limited-overs cricket and it maintained that. So much so that Virat Kohli could experiment by sending Suresh Raina at No 3, giving him the opportunity to cash in on some inexperienced and loose bowling.
The India skipper, who was unstoppable in the ODIs, chipped in with 26 off 20 deliveries at No 4. So did Manish Pandey and MS Dhoni.
Their strike rates weren’t exceptional, but because Dhawan had galloped at the top, smacking even the short balls, they proved just enough as India, initially promising to put on 250, ended with just over 200.
The Proteas fast bowlers were guilty of giving India batsmen the pace to play their strokes, just like their senior counterparts had done in the limited overs series. With no swing on offer, their type of bowling was always going to be milked.
While Reeza Hendricks (70 off 50 balls) and Farhaan Behardien (39 off 27 balls) were at the crease, it looked like they would make a match of it. But the pressure of a rising required rate got to them and eventually they fell one by one, trying to go for big hits.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar picked five for 24, the top three batsmen as well as the dangerous Heinrich Klaasen, who fell in an 18th over that saw four wickets tumble with the seamer on a hattrick.