Little went right for South Africa against India in their first match of the TVS Cup. Thrust into the captaincy hot-seat, Graeme Smith learned some tough lessons as India first put 307 for four on the board and then skittled out South Africa for a mere 154. Only once before has South Africa lost a one-dayer by more than the eventual margin of 153 runs.
Solid batting performances from Sourav Ganguly (75), Mohammad Kaif (95 not out) and Dinesh Mongia (55 from 38 balls) set things up perfectly for India. The South African batsmen simply did not have it in them to mount a serious challenge in conditions tailormade for spin bowling.
Leading a side in one-day cricket is not easy at the best of times. Smith today found out what it's like on a bad day at the office. Right from the toss, which he lost, it was downhill all the way for Smith.
Virender Sehwag (37), dropped by Robin Peterson in the first over of the match, made the most of the opportunity. Whipping the ball through midwicket with aplomb and slashing hard through the offside, Sehwag made the bowlers pay, whichever side of the wicket they bowled. His fiery start gave Gautam Gambhir a chance to settle down and get his eye in. But after he did just that, Gambhir (18) played an awkward pull and gloved the ball to the keeper, giving Makhaya Ntini his 100th ODI wicket.
An indiscrete shot from Sehwag in the 17th over cost him his wicket and forced Ganguly to put his head down and build a partnership with Kaif. The 86-run partnership that followed brought out the best in the two batsmen. Kaif sprinted like a man possessed, pushing his partner harder with every successive run.
Ganguly's effortless hitting against the slower bowlers took him to 75. Two cleanly-struck sixes and seven boundaries bolstered his knock, and his disappointment at missing out on a century would only have been offset by the satisfaction of playing a vital hand in building a big score.
Kaif played second fiddle brilliantly, biding his time, until Ganguly played an ambitious drive off a slower ball from Dawson to be caught at mid-off (175 for 3). His dismissal was followed by the run-out of Yuvraj Singh (11), and there was a suggestion that the Indian scoring-rate might dip.
Kaif and Dinesh Mongia had other ideas. With a flurry of strokes on either side of the wicket, the pair launched a ferocious assault on the South African bowlers. Sparing neither slow bowler nor fast, the pair bludgeoned 110 runs in 11.4 overs. Regaining a long-lost touch, Mongia unveiled an array of drives that pierced every available gap in the offside. Kaif joined the party, picking up length balls and clattering them over midwicket with regularity.
He came tantalisingly close to a century, finishing unbeaten on a 103-ball 95, while Mongia provided just the impetus that India needed, slamming 55 from just 38 balls. The assault left South Africa gasping for breath and ragged in the field, as they dropped catches and conceded overthrows.
South Africa have rarely looked more clueless on a cricket field. They needed a superhuman batting effort to lift them out of the mire that their bowlers had landed them in. All they got was staunch resistance from Mark Boucher (48) and a cameo from Herschelle Gibbs. A string of shaky batting performances added up to a mere 154 - not even enough to deny India the bonus point.
Ajit Agarkar started the rot, claiming two wickets - Smith, chopping onto his stumps, and Jacques Rudolph, caught at slip - in a tidy opening spell. Pushed onto the back foot, South Africa never looked the part against Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra and even the part-time off-spin of Sehwag. While Mishra picked up a wicket in his second over of international cricket, Harbhajan, aggressive as ever, returned two for 22, and Sehwag ended with three for 28 as South Africa skidded to a morale-deflating loss.
Every team has a hard day at the office, and South Africa had theirs today. If they can look forward to anything after being crushed, it is their next game - against a Bangladesh that looked even more inept against India than they did.