Unlikely pair shine brightest
Neither Rohit Sharma nor Morne van Wyk were supposed to be here. Yet both of them shone on Makhaya Ntini's big day, his farewell.
Rohit was a last-minute addition to the Indian touring party after Virender Sehwag was forced to miss the ODIs as a precautionary measure for his dodgy shoulder. Still, Rohit would have only been a back-up man had not a bruised, battered, but successful Gautam Gambhir not left for India. van Wyk only came in because Graeme Smith had another hand injury to tend to.
However, the two adjusted the best to the slow and low conditions at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, scoring fine fifties in front of the biggest crowd gathered to see cricket in South Africa.
Rohit did much as he does in Twenty20s. He didn't look to hit the ball too hard, waiting for it to arrive and then lofting it square or straight. His driving on the slow track stood out. His knock set up India's innings, after which Suresh Raina provided the important runs in the final few overs. If signs were to be looked for, these can't be bad for a man trying to force his way back into the national side.
"It was important to start on a good note," Rohit said after the game. "And I am thankful it came off at the right time. I will take every opportunity as it comes. I do not want to put pressure on myself. I have played the IPL here before, and know the conditions here. The wicket was on the slower side. I took my time knowing that we had a good batting line-up."
For the 31-year-old van Wyk, who seems destined to end up a journeyman cricketer, this was an even bigger opportunity. He grabbed it with both hands, running back from mid-off and then diving nearly to a full stretch to remove M Vijay. Then came his batting.
van Wyk is an interesting batsman with an interesting back lift. The bat reaches his ear as he waits for the ball, and the face is always open, showing the maker's name to the point fieldsmen. By the time it comes down, though, the bat is straight, and there is no problem in closing its face too. As he demonstrated to Munaf Patel, hitting him over midwicket, through point and over mid-on in the same over. Munaf seemd to be at the wrong end of van Wyk today: when he came back for another spell, he found van Wyk flicking him over long leg and squeezing a yorker between the two point fieldsmen.
By the time van Wyk got out for 67, South Africa had scored only 92, showing how he was the only man who adjusted well to the conditions. "Definitely, when Morne was going pretty well for us, we were up with the rate, ahead of it actually," South African captain Johan Botha said. "But as soon as the rate went high, it was difficult to come back. We can't expect Nos 8, 9, 10 and 11 to get more than 10 an over in the end."
Two men least likely to make an impact in the limited-overs leg of the tour a week ago have made the most impact in the first game. It will be interesting to see if they can carry it into the ODIs.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo