Raina century seals one-sided win
Suresh Raina struggled at first, then he sizzled. He overcame a jittery period of mis-hits and short-pitched bowling, scoring 82 off the last 38 balls he faced, en route to only the third century in Twenty20 internationals. Yuvraj Singh came back to form, Graeme Smith's reluctance to attack with Dale Steyn confounded, and India's 186 was always going to be too much on a difficult pitch and a slow and big outfield.
South Africa's reply, in the face of a four-spinner Indian attack - without using Yuvraj - was even more confounding. Jacques Kallis and Smith struggled to flow, and hesitated to take risks. Their run-rate crossed six an over for the first time in the 11th over, and it was too late by then, despite some late hitting from Kallis.
India had got off to a similar start, albeit against seamers, but unlike South Africa they threw away the caution at a more appropriate time. With two early wickets gone and both Raina and Yuvraj struggling to present the middle of the bat, India were 43 after eight overs. There was no mucking around after that. Although the odd mis-hit remained a feature of the partnership, the sweet shots grew in frequency and India got 143 in the next 12 overs. It worked for them that the mis-hits kept bouncing in front of deep fielders, and the sweet ones cleared them easily.
From the time he came to bat in the first over, Raina was given a fair share of back-of-a-length deliveries. By the time India's both irregular openers, in absence of Gautam Gambhir (down with diarrhoea), ended their struggle, Raina had survived a catch off a Morne Morkel no-ball. He would go on to survive run-out attempts from Smith and AB de Villiers, when on 37 and 47.
The introduction of spin, when Raina was 19 off 22 and Yuvraj 5 off 9, was what turned it around. In the ninth over, Roelof van der Merwe's first and only, Raina played two lovely inside-out drives to get six off two deliveries, and Yuvraj slog-swept to get six off one. That was trigger enough to shed away inhibitions. The first ball of the next over, Raina guessed a back-of-a-length delivery, backed away and slogged Kallis for six. His best shot was when he made room against a near yorker from Albie Morkel in the next over and squeezed it wide of point for four.
Yuvraj, meanwhile, had found his timing back, and took the lead in scoring, playing the effortless pick-ups, short-arm pulls, and the inside-out shots. By the time he skied one to hand, Raina, having put in the struggle, the ugly moments, was there in a position to cash in. Steyn, underused in the first half of the innings, came back well, but he was now limiting damage as opposed to causing it.
Rory Kleinveldt, who got M Vijay in the first over and Yuvraj later, was the one who suffered the most. And he was asking for it too, bowling either length or full tosses in the 18th over, and was hit to such varied areas as midwicket, cow corner, extra cover, straight over his head, and over long-off. Twenty-five came off that over, during which Raina moved from 75 to 93. He reached his century with a slogged six in the final over, which went for 19.
Raina will cherish this knock all the more because the pitch interested a variety of bowlers. South Africa had managed to assume a strong position with their hit-the-deck bowlers, India were about to do so with the spinners. Harbhajan Singh bowled the first over, Yusuf Pathan was introduced inside the Powerplay, and Loots Bosman was out of his depth on the slow pitch.
With both Kallis and Smith struggling, by the time the first piece of enterprise came, a slog-swept six from Smith in the 11th over, the required run-rate had reached 13. By the time Kallis reached his fifty, off 45 balls, they were needing 15.5 in each of the six overs to come.
Suddenly Kallis exploded, hitting three sixes in the next two overs. It seemed for the second time in 40 overs a batsman was about to put behind him the struggles and play a decisive knock. Yet, there were just too many risks required, and one of them claimed Kallis, leaving 59 to get off 21. The requirement was comfortable enough for India to be able to experiment: Praveen Kumar bowled just one over, for three runs. With two straight wins, India stormed to the second round as the table leaders.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo