South Africa Women 133 for 2 (Bosch 66*, Luus 43) beat India Women 130 for 6 (Deol 52, Rodrigues 30, Ismail 3-14, Bosch 2-11) by eight wickets
A maiden unbeaten fifty in T20Is from Anneke Bosch in the series opener on Saturday helped South Africa extend their four-match winning streak on their tour of India. Aided in no small part by the second-wicket stand between Bosch and stand-in captain Sune Luus, South Africa's superlative fielding and the five wickets between Bosch and Shabnim Ismail, the visitors closed out a 131 chase with eight wickets in hand in the first T20I in Lucknow.
With South Africa needing 14 off the last two overs, Bosch lent the closing minutes of the chase an air of imminence that had characterised the best part of their innings - and their batting since their arrival in India - bunting two insouciant fours in that period, the second of those sealing their win with five balls to spare.
India, led by stand-in captain Smriti Mandhana in the absence of designated T20I captain Harmanpreet Kaur, were pegged back at various points of their defense by their uninspiring fielding, which had also played a decisive role in their 4-1 loss in the ODI series. Allrounder Harleen Deol's maiden international fifty and 1 for 21, Jemimah Rodrigues' 27-ball 30, and 21-year-old debutant Simran Bahadur's wicketless four overs for 21 runs, however, might inspire a better performance as they look to break out of their funk in the second T20I, on Sunday, even as concerns over the availability of both Mandhana and Kaur loom.
Bosch and Luus steer South Africa
The early dismissal of the dangerous Lizelle Lee had little bearing on the chase thanks to the 90-run stand off 81 balls her fellow opener Bosch stitched together with No. 3 Luus. The pair blunted a spin attack, which, save for the addition of Deol, was still recovering from the hammering it got in the ODIs.
With medium-pacer Bahadur, and Arundhati Reddy in patches, briefly offering any check to the run flow, Bosch and Luus plundered runs square of the wicket at will, cracking powerful blows off anything short that was offered. Luus freed her arms in the 11-run fifth over, tonking Reddy for a four and six off back-to-back deliveries while Bosch made deft use of her feet and the slog-sweep in particular, the latter also fetching her the only six in the innings, off Deol, in the 11th over.
Deol, Rodrigues steady India before Bosch, Ismail apply the brakes
After being put in to bat, India finished the powerplay on 41 for 1, with Mandhana having holed out to Bosch for 11 in the second over. Deol, promoted to No. 3 in place of Rodrigues, countered the early blow with a brisk 45-run stand with opener Shafali Verma, who was playing her first match since the T20 World Cup final last year. Following Verma's departure for a 22-ball 23 in the 10th over, Deol, who had had a decent run as an allrounder in the Women's T20 Challenge in the UAE in November, dropped anchor again as Rodrigues, dropped from the ODI team after the third match, played herself in with risk-free along-the-ground strokes.
At 104 for 2 in 15 overs, with Deol and Rodrigues on 46 and 20 respectively, India looked set for a strong finish. But the introduction of pace-bowling allrounder Bosch, the Player of the Match in the final ODI and in this game, decisively altered that possibility. Her six-run over, followed by Ayabonga Khaka giving away as many in the 17th over crowned a boundary-less sequence of 13 balls.
The dip in the scoring rate translated into the departure of Deol and Rodrigues, one ball apart, in Bosch's next over as both were found wanting for power in their attempt to clear an unerring Ismail at long-off. That pegged India back as they managed only 26 runs in the last 30 balls, with Ismail taking two of her three wickets in the final over.
"Yes, definitely. We were set at the time. It was our responsibility to get it done in the end. We got out, so obviously it will be difficult for the next batter to understand the wicket," Deol said after the match when asked if their wickets in quick succession was the turning point in India's innings. "We were batting at that time, and should have batted till the end."
A tale of two fielding units
Lee, the leading run-scorer in the ODIs, flicked medium-pacer Reddy to open South Africa's chase on the first ball with a misfield by a diving short-fine leg fielder Poonam Yadav. Four dots subsequently prompted Lee to loft one over mid-off only for it to be dropped by Deepti Sharma, who ran in from extra cover but could only get her fingertips to the ball.
That was only the start of a poor outing in the field for the Indians compared to their opponents, whose team 50, too, came via a misfield from Deol at deep square leg, in the eighth over. Three overs later, Bosch, on 30, received a lifeline in the penultimate ball, with wicketkeeper Nuzhat Parveen, coming in for Sushma Verma who kept wickets in all five ODIs, unable to hold on to a thick outside edge off Deol.
A more worrying drop on the penultimate ball of the 16th over nearly quashed all hopes for any come-from-behind victory for India. They still had 26 runs to gamble on, but as Rajeshwari Gayakwad dropped a head-high sweep to reprieve Luus, the eventuality of the match gathered further inevitability. Deol, however, sent back Luus for 43 the very next ball with an errorless caught-and-bowled, but a misfield from Richa Ghosh at point the following over saw South Africa add four vital runs to their tally.
By contrast, the four catching opportunities that came the visitors' way materialised into wickets and their ground fielding helped chip off a good 20 runs from the eventual target, which proved inadequate for India to defend.
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha