Arshdeep swings it as it is India all the way
The hosts win the first T20 by eight wickets after Arshdeep Singh and Deepak Chahar rock South Africa and Suryakumar Yadav stamps authority with a fifty.
An air of uneasiness may have swirled around the Greenfield Stadium in Thiruvananthapuram when India skipper Rohit Sharma announced at the toss that Jasprit Bumrah was out of the first T20I against South Africa with a niggle.
Moments later, BCCI revealed that Bumrah had complained of back pain during India's training session on Tuesday. Considering he had just returned from a back injury ahead of the series against Australia, the fitness of India’s premier pacer is a cause for concern going into the T20 World Cup.
Once the game began though, the spotlight was firmly trained on Deepak Chahar (4-0-24-2) and Arshdeep Singh (4-0-32-3) owing to a wonderful exhibition of swing bowling, reducing the visitors to 9/5 within the first 15 balls. Skipper Temba Bavuma, Rilee Rossouw, David Miller and Tristan Stubbs fell for a duck while Quinton de Kock made one. It meant South Africa could finish only on 106/8, thanks largely to Keshav Maharaj scoring 41 off 35 balls at No 8.
On a pitch with a tinge of grass cover where batting wasn’t straightforward, India reached the target in 16.4 overs with eight wickets in hand. KL Rahul (51* off 56 balls) and Suryakumar Yadav (50* off 33 balls) helped India take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series with an unbroken partnership of 93 runs after the bowlers had set it up.
Chahar was replacing Bumrah in the playing XI while Arshdeep was back in the mix in place of a resting Bhuvneshwar Kumar after missing the Australia series to do conditioning work at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru.
With plenty of swing on offer for the pacers, Chahar and Arshdeep took advantage against a seemingly clueless South African batting unit. Chahar made the first breakthrough, setting up Bavuma’s downfall in the opening over by bowling three outswingers before bringing one back into the right-hander. The ball went through the yawning gap between bat and pad and clattered into the stumps.
Arshdeep’s opening over was even more impressive. There was a slice of good fortune when de Kock inside-edged a delivery outside off on to his stumps, but the dismissals of Rilee Rossouw and David Miller were down to Arshdeep's immaculate line and length. Rossouw was outdone by a tempting outswinger outside off, edging to Rishabh Pant behind the stumps. Miller perhaps saw the dismissal and readied himself for another outswinger, only to be done in by a huge inswinger that went on to hit the stumps.
South Africa dug themselves into a deeper hole when Stubbs’s upper cut off a short delivery was caught by Arshdeep at third man. A partnership of 33 between Aiden Markram and Wayne Parnell provided them some respite, but Harshal Patel joined in on the act by trapping Markram leg before after a referral.
South Africa’s precarious position allowed spin duo of R Ashwin and Axar Patel to control proceedings in the middle and latter overs. Ashwin, brought into the eleven in place of leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, conceded just eight runs off his four overs. Axar, who was Player of the Series against Australia, finished with figures of 4-0-16-1.
India’s run chase was far from smooth-sailing though. Kagiso Rabada set the tone for the South Africans with the ball with an opening spell of 3-1-6-1. He began with a maiden over to Rahul before getting Sharma (0) caught behind in his next over. The modest target allowed the Indian batters to be circumspect, reaching 17/1 after six overs—their lowest total in a powerplay in T20Is.
Anrich Nortje was introduced in the seventh over and immediately found Virat Kohli’s outside edge with a short delivery outside off. Suryakumar was welcomed with a short ball that came back in sharply, hitting the in-form batter on his body. Clearly not someone who will allow the bowlers to dictate terms, he responded by hitting Nortje for two consecutive sixes. While the first was a top edge that flew over the third man boundary, the next one had the stamp of Suryakumar on it, a nonchalant flick of the wrists to send the ball soaring over the backward square leg boundary.
Rahul laboured along for most of his innings—he was on 15 off 36 balls at one stage—before a six over long-on against Nortje enabled him to find some rhythm. Suryakumar, meanwhile, was as impressive as ever, taking just 33 balls to reach his half-century.
The second T20 will be played in Guwahati on Sunday.