The passion of youth
Few gave them any chance of mixing it with the big boys when they arrived in South Africa but in two successive days India, all of one game old in this format when the ICC World Twenty20 started, have put it across the two teams with the most experience in this version. If Wednesday's win against England was built around an awesome batting display, today's was the result of significant performances in all aspects - the batting recovery from 33 for 3 was remarkable, the bowling was fiery, if sometimes erratic, while the fielding was simply sensational.
Almost the entire team played a part, but the most significant contribution came from a 20-year-old playing his maiden Twenty20 innings. Rohit Sharma was a revelation. He has been spoken of highly in domestic circles but to come out for the first time in a Twenty20 and play with the poise and composure he showed was quite remarkable. It shows he possesses an excellent temperament and isn't fazed by the big stage, qualities that are as important for an international cricketer as skill.
The skill shone through as well. The conditions at Kingsmead meant this wasn't a normal Twenty20 knock: a batsman coming in at No. 5 in this format would usually be expected to be in fourth gear from the start, but with India 33 for 3 and the ball seaming around it was essential for the batsmen to rethink their strategy.
|Add Sharma's outstanding fielding to his batting, and India seem to have found a long-term middle-order batsman who should eventually make a mark in all forms of the game|
Sharma was smart enough to do that. He only scored four runs off his first 14 balls and was often hurried by the sheer pace of Morne Morkel - who consistently bowled between 142 and 145 kph - and Johan van der Wath. However, the bowler-friendly conditions also demonstrated that he has the technique to cut it at this level: the stance is upright and relaxed, he doesn't commit to the front foot too early - a quality that should help him on bouncy tracks - and he defends with a straight bat and close to his body.
There was evidence, in his first 20 minutes at the crease, that he had the ability to make the grade in the longer version, but with the ball zipping around could he transform defence into the kind of strokeplay that would give India a fighting chance in this game? The next 45 minutes answered that, too, and quite emphatically.
His first two fours weren't entirely convincing but then he played three strokes of sheer class: Albie Morkel pitched it on a good length just outside off, Sharma leaned forward, rode the bounce, and square-drove it past backward point. Soon after that, Makhaya Ntini was elegantly flicked away, the ball bisecting quite perfectly the fielders at fine leg and square leg. Next up, when Ntini pitched it up outside off, Sharma eased into a classical cover-drive, again placing it just right. The pace of the pitch had been a problem earlier, but now that he had gauged it, the runs flowed far more freely. His favourite shot was the cut over point, a stroke he executed more than once with flourish. Add his outstanding fielding and India seem to have found a long-term middle-order batsman who should eventually make a mark in all forms of the game.
With Mahendra Singh Dhoni getting into his stride too, it ensured India had a competitive total in the end, but few would have expected such an intense and high-quality performance in the field. If Pakistan had outdone Australia in the field earlier in the tournament, India did the same to South Africa today. While the South Africans missed a couple of sitters and fumbled in the field, the Indians were dervishes. Dinesh Karthik's sensational catch to dismiss Graeme Smith, and Sharma's Jonty Rhodes-like dive to run out the dangerous Justin Kemp were obviously the highlights, but there were other less noticeable moments too, when the fielders attacked the ball, picked it up cleanly, and threw quickly and reasonably accurately.
Among the bowlers, RP Singh, with his ability to move the ball both ways and get disconcerting bounce, showed once again just how much he has developed over the last six months. Four for 13 in four overs represent outstanding returns, and the figures didn't flatter the way he bowled. Sreesanth, when he got his direction right, was a handful, while Irfan Pathan showed once again that he has got back his rhythm and swing.
The one black mark on an otherwise impeccable performance was the indiscipline in bowling: the Indians gave away 15 runs in wides, and bowled 11 extra deliveries. Their excellence in other areas - and South Africa's uncanny ability to play at their worst on the biggest stages - allowed them to get away with it, but on Saturday against Australia such profligacy might not go unpunished.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo