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Match Analysis

Lungi Ngidi leads the line as South Africa's quicks display their title credentials

Pacy Perth pitch proves tailor-made for battery of fast bowlers in statement victory

With South Africa expected to load up on their pace attack at the fast and bouncy Optus Stadium, Lungi Ngidi loomed as an obvious inclusion for their pivotal clash against India.
Still, as the night match inched closer, Ngidi felt increasingly nervous with the team's brains trust deliberating over selections well into the day of the game. He had bowled well in South Africa's opener against Zimbabwe in the controversial washout in Hobart before being dropped for the subsequent game against Bangladesh on the slower SCG wicket.
After being a "bit surprised" when he found out he was playing, Ngidi justified the decision with a player-of-the match performance, tearing through India's top-order with sharp and hostile bowling as South Africa gained early control en route to a pivotal five-wicket victory.
"I've not played much in this World Cup, so to come in on a day like this and perform against India... I couldn't have asked for a better day," Ngidi told reporters after taking 4 for 29.
"I'm very happy and it is probably one of my best performances."
He might have been a late inclusion, but Ngidi knew what he had to do on a favourable wicket for quicks. South Africa's attack prepared well, preaching discipline and accuracy, and watched footage of previous games in Perth in the tournament, where they would have noticed Pakistan miscalculating by bowling too full against Zimbabwe.
"You could see there was pace in the wicket," Lgidi said. "[The plan] was to not give any width and try to keep it as tight as possible. Dig it into the wicket."
Kagiso Rabada and Wayne Parnell set the tone with hard lengths to frustrate Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul with a number of dot balls. Still the India openers survived the opening four overs, an impressive feat considering the difficulty for batters against the new ball on this pitch, even though South Africa's quicks weren't finding much swing.
Ngidi entered the attack in the fifth over and almost immediately proved why he's tailor-made for the pitch. With his second delivery, he conjured extra bounce, which steepled awkwardly on Rohit who could only hole out as he came through too late on the pull.
On the last ball of the over, another short-of-a-length Ngidi delivery had Rahul nicking to Aiden Markram at slip, who was stationed at times on the 30-yard circle, underlining the bounce on offer and reviving classic images of the nearby WACA.
When the powerplay ended, Ngidi had the formidable challenge of tackling Virat Kohli, who unsurprisingly received a rapturous ovation from the 44,000 crowd - a figure which had almost surpassed the combined attendance of the previous four games at Optus Stadium.
He delivered first-up a perfectly respectable ball, only for Kohli to hit a gorgeous cover boundary, expertly piercing two fielders in the ring, then repeated the dose with a neat clip as Ngidi unwisely bowled full.
Kohli was on a roll and started to regain momentum for India when Ngidi decided to fight fire with fire. Knowing he was being issued a challenge, Ngidi dug in another sharp bouncer, which climbed on Kohli who was late on the extra lift and holed out.
"He was trying to attack me," Ngidi said of Kohli. "I wanted to maximise that over so I decided to bowl that [short] ball. I knew he was going to go for it.
"It could have gone either way, could have gone for six. Fortunately, luck was on my side."
Ngidi's stunning burst wasn't complete as he enjoyed more short-ball success with the wicket of Hardik Pandya, aided by a spectacular outfield catch by Rabada.
India then threatened a rally through Suryakumar Yadav, who looked more comfortable on the pitch than anyone bar Australia's allrounder Marcus Stoinis, as he smartly used the pace of the bowling to good effect.
Just as India seemed to be headed towards a fairly decent total of around 150, Parnell pulled them back by removing Dinesh Karthik with a length delivery before bowling a superb 19th over, which included two wickets.
Parnell produced more swing than his fellow quicks, but it wasn't particularly menacing. Instead, he bowled an unnerving length in a trademark professional performance for a player who can easily get overshadowed.
"It was about hitting good areas," Parnell said, after finishing with 3 for 15 from four overs. "Sometimes you can get carried away with bowling short. Personally, it was just trying to hit the top of the stumps and keep things simple."
With Anrich Nortje spitting fire from the pitch, South Africa's quicks were relentless and restricted India to a total that felt slightly under par. It proved the case, only just, as South Africa moved a step closer to a semi-final berth with a statement win.
"We have a group of bowlers who are all capable of winning games," Parnell said. "Each of us believes that and we know someone can step up on any given day."
Momentum is building for a confident South Africa, who haven't been publicly shy about going all the way and finally breaking their jinx at major tournaments.
They've moved a step closer to a semi-final berth although they will doubtless bid a reluctant farewell to Perth, and its green-tinged Optus Stadium pitch perfectly suited to their slew of talented quicks.

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth