Openers, fielders give India big win
India 331 for 7 (Dhawan 114, Rohit 65) beat South Africa 305 (McLaren 71*, de Villiers 70, Petersen 68) by 26 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
India's new-look ODI team got off to a bumper start, negotiating short-pitched bowling to post 331 and then fielding superbly to pull South Africa back every time they threatened to break away. MS Dhoni squeezed the life out of South Africa's chase with his shrewd employment of spinners - combined figures of R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Suresh Raina read 25-1-114-2 - as if this was subcontinent.
Overhead, at least, this was far from overhead. It was a cold morning in Wales, South Africa won the toss and asked India to bat first. Cue to bowl short then. Not like South Africa did, though. Apart from Morne Morkel, and in Dale Steyn's absence, none of their bowlers had the sting to trouble the young Indian batsmen. Shikhar Dhawan became only the second left-hand batsman to score a century against South Africa in six years, the 127 that he added with Rohit Sharma was the first hundred opening stand against South Africa in more than two years, and they became only the second opening pair in four years to have both scored 50 or more against South Africa.
South Africa weren't helped by their fielding either. The ball lobbed over two fielders at the boundary, when Shikhar Dhawan was on 27 and 70. Then AB de Villiers missed a stumping when Dhawan was 102. There were more than a few misfields along the way. Morkel pulled up with a quad strain too, and bowled only 6.5 overs for just 27. Ryan McLaren gave South Africa a chance, though, with some clever slower short balls towards the end, but India's slowing down wasn't quite Nagpur 2011, the last time these two teams played, when India had gone from 267 for 1 in the 40th over to 296 all out.
At the toss, when India were itching to have a bowl themselves, they would hardly have split hairs had they been offered more than 300. Morkel began the first over with testing short bowling, which Rohit did well to avoid. However, the others were gentle compared to Morkel, especially Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Rory Kleinveldt, who went for 164 in the 20 overs between them.
And Dhawan and Rohit hardly hit a shot in anger. It was all timing and placement after the cautious start. When Rohit eased into a Tsotsobe length ball for four through cover, the signs were all there. However, Rohit is known to throw it away too often. Not today. He attacked in a calculated manner, and from the other end saw Dhawan batting as if continuing from his Test debut.
Rohit remained fluent, Dhawan was crisp, and they took full toll of South Africa's rigid bowling and cold fielding. If Tsotsobe drew little help from the pitch, Kleinveldt kept bowling too short and too slow. McLaren began with deliveries down the leg side with fine leg up. Without taking risks, the openers raced away. When Rohit finally fell for 65 off 81, pulling a ball that was not short enough, India had already reached 127 in the 22nd over, and Dhawan was 53 off 49.
Suddenly Dhawan shifted to another gear, going after Tsotsobe, ramping him for four, and then charging him for a six over long-off. As expected, India took the Powerplay only at the latest possible moment, after Virat Kohli had picked out deep midwicket an over before the restrictions could be called upon. In the Powerplay, India scored 36 runs and lost two more wickets. When Dhoni fell in search of quick runs, the memories of Nagpur came back. However, Jadeja stayed cool, and capitalised on some short and length bowling towards the end to help India to 40 runs in the last 3.4 overs. He scored an unbeaten 47 off 29.
In reply, South Africa responded to early wickets with counterattack. Robin Peterson, the surprise No. 3, and de Villiers batted with ease to add a run-a-ball 124 for the third wicket. Petersen didn't bat like a pinch-hitter; he played proper shots, including a drive over extra cover off the bowling of Ishant Sharma. De Villiers began like a dream. Anything with the slightest hint of width was punched through covers.
Around the 15th-over mark, though, Dhoni began to play the game on his own terms. There was a spell of three overs for nine runs immediately after the two spinners began bowling in tandem. South Africa seemed happy with knocking the ball around, and Dhoni was happy with the calm. Amid the calm, Jadeja produced brilliance with a full-length diving save at midwicket. He had the presence of mind to not instinctively throw at the non-striker's end, where both the batsmen had ended up.
The spin choke followed during which JP Duminy reunited with his demons against spin, de Villiers got out to a pressure shot and David Miller was run out for a diamond duck. Faf du Plessis and Ryan McLaren threatened a late heist with a 50-run stand in less than five overs, but this time Suresh Raina ran back to take a good catch at mid-off. The injured Morkel chose to bat with McLaren, and their 48-run stand limited the net run-rate damage.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo