Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
India 203 for 5 (Dhawan 72, Dala 2-47) beat South Africa 175 for 9 (Hendricks 70, Behardien 39, Bhuvneshwar 5-24) by 28 runs
On a flat pitch, in the thin air of the Highveld, India's batsmen piled up 203 for 5, and that total proved more than adequate against a South African line-up missing a number of its biggest names. A 28-run win, with starring roles for Shikhar Dhawan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, gave India a 1-0 lead in the three-match T20I series, but they may not have left the Wanderers entirely thrilled about their performance, particularly with the bat.
India's batting in T20s often seems more risk-averse than the format demands, built on a platform-setting template borrowed from ODIs. This innings was different. Short and wide bowling from Dane Paterson to Rohit Sharma allowed them to plunder 18 from the first over, but they kept going after the bowling even when it wasn't so charitable. Suresh Raina took it to an extreme, exposing all his stumps and slogging at everything to score a chancy 15 off 7 at No. 3. Dhawan also kept going hard, his top-edged hoicks over the keeper making the same impact on the scorecard as his pristinely-timed flicks over square leg and slaps either side of point.
This approach, aided by the bang-it-in tactics of South Africa's seamers, who didn't vary their pace nearly as much as they could have, brought India 78 runs in the Powerplay. By the time a Tabraiz Shamsi skidder trapped Virat Kohli in front in the 10th over, their score had already motored past 100. A pair of leg-side boundaries from Dhawan in the 14th over, off the debutant Junior Dala, moved India to 149 for 3. Getting to 200 seemed like a given now; the question was how much more they could get.
Dhawan fell in the 15th over, lap-scooping an Andile Phehlukwayo slower ball to the keeper. From that point, India simply weren't able to keep their momentum going; they only managed 46 off the last five overs, with Manish Pandey only managing one boundary in an unbeaten 27-ball innings. South Africa's bowlers, particularly Paterson who nailed his slower balls and yorkers in the 18th and 20th overs, brought the innings back under some sort of control at the death, but Pandey struggled to come up with answers to the questions he was being asked.
Still, 203 seemed like a winning total, despite the last four T20Is at this venue going to the chasing side - but how might things have panned out had South Africa fielded a full-strength batting line-up, or even if they had AB de Villiers available?
Even without de Villiers and the rest of the big names, there were moments during South Africa's innings when they seemed capable of chasing down this total. The first 15 balls of their innings, for instance, brought 28 runs, with Reeza Hendricks and JJ Smuts hitting merrily on the up. But, in Bhuvneshwar, India had a bowler who could get the ball to move sideways as well as use imperceptible changes of pace. His knuckle ball brought them the wickets of Smuts and JP Duminy, and put India firmly back on top. When Hardik Pandya followed up with a slower-ball dismissal of his own to send back David Miller, South Africa were 48 for 3 in the seventh over.
South Africa weren't done yet. Hendricks and Farhaan Behardien clattered 81 in 8.4 overs, and at one point during their fourth-wicket partnership the equation was a difficult but doable 86 off 41 balls. With all the risk-taking that task demanded, however, a wicket was always around the corner. It fell to Yuzvendra Chahal, Behardien holing out to long-on for 39. Then Hendricks and Heinrich Klaasen took 25 off the next two overs, leaving 50 to get off the last three, with six wickets in hand.
It took only six balls for India to wipe out four of those wickets and end the contest abruptly, South Africa crumbling in their desperation for boundaries; Bhuvneshwar grabbed three of them, in the process picking up his maiden five-wicket haul in T20Is, and a run-out did for the other.