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Proteas batters get the reality check they deserve

A total of 227/9 was never going to be enough and questions will be asked of Faf du Plessis’ decision to bat first under cloudy skies when his best chance of toppling India was taking wickets with the new ball.

The Proteas have a week to contemplate this latest defeat and mastermind a way to get back to winning ways against the West Indies on Monday. Picture: @cricketworldcup/ Twitter

LONDON - Three matches, three defeats, zero points, little hope. That is the situation that South Africa find themselves in after India heaped more misery on the beleaguered Proteas with a comfortable six-wicket defeat with 15 balls to spare.

A total of 227/9 was never going to be enough and questions will be asked of Faf du Plessis’ decision to bat first under cloudy skies when his best chance of toppling India was taking wickets with the new ball.

As it was, Jasprit Bumrah, who was outstanding and deserved more than his 2/35, nicked off Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock inside six overs. From there the Proteas lurched from one mishap to the next as regular wickets curtailed any momentum generated through the glimmer of grit shown by a handful of batsmen.

Du Plessis and Rassie van der Dussen scored 38 and 22 respectively in a third-wicket stand of 54 before they were both sent packing by Yuzvendra Chahal (4/51) in the 20th over. Van der Dussen was bowled around his legs playing an ugly premeditated reverse sweep and Du Plessis was cleaned up through the gate by one that didn’t turn.

When JP Duminy was pinned on the pads by Yuzvendra Chahal (1/46) for 3, the score read 89/5 and an embarrassment was on the cards.

Contributions from David Miller (31) and Andile Phehlukwayo (34) held back the tide before Chris Morris (41) and Kagiso Rabada (31 not out) dragged the score to something that looked almost defendable. Almost.

To stand any chance South Africa needed early wickets. At least three of them. No other side win world cricket relies so heavily on their top three. Since the last World Cup in 2015 Rohit Sharma, Shikar Dhawan and Virat Kohli have contributed over 60% of India’s ODI runs. Get them cheaply and you’re in business.

Rabada sleepwalked his way through the opening two games, lacking his promised menace. From his first delivery he sought to put that right. Aggressive with his lines, up on pace and procuring movement through the air and off the seam, he was rewarded with the outside edge of Dhawan in the sixth over.

South Africa needed luck but it eluded them. Leading edges flew over fielder’s heads and catches fell short of those diving in the slips. Heads had already begun to droop by the time Kohli reached 18.

A WEEK TO CONTEMPLATE

But then a moment of magic. Phehlukwayo lands one on a good length that explodes off the deck. It rushes Kohli who regrets the jab away from his body even before the ball flies off his edge. De Kock throws his body to the right, sticks out a hand and clings on to a screamer.

When Rabada’s slower ball removes KL Rahul, caught at mid-off by Du Plessis with the scorecard reading 139/3, the door opens again.

But at the other end, Sharma was unmoved. Few openers in the world understand how to pace an innings with as much conviction. Ice runs through his veins as freely as runs flow from his bat. His 22nd ODI hundred had a sense of inevitability to it.

He should have been watching the game’s final moments from the dressing room but was allowed to see it home thanks to an astonishing dropped catch. A top edge from a Rabada short ball in the 44th over looped to Miller in the covers who found a way of grassing it.

The next ball was hit for four and South Africa’s performance had an encapsulating moment. Rabada would finish with 2/39 from his ten overs. He’ll bowl worse in his career for a better return.

MS Dhoni started the day on 10,500 and added 34 more until Morris held on to a skier off his own bowling despite colliding with the stumps at the non-strikers end. It was no less than Morris deserved who impressed with figures of 1/36 from his ten that included three maidens.

Sharma finished unbeaten on 122 from 144 balls as Hardik Pandya (15*) lashed the winning runs to the backward point boundary.

South Africa have a week to contemplate this latest defeat and mastermind a way to get back to winning ways against the West Indies on Monday.

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