India vs South Africa: Virat Kohli and team take guard against jittery South Africa
ICC World Cup 2019: As the powerful limited overs juggernaut of India takes on a cornered South Africa, expect nothing less than yet another extraordinary encounter.Updated: Jun 05, 2019 10:39 IST
The Eden Gardens was packed with a record 90,000 turnout on a Sunday afternoon in November, 1991. Kolkata and the cricket world had just welcomed South Africa back into the international fold after more than two decades in isolation for Apartheid. India were chasing a paltry 178 in 47 overs. The match did not promise much.
The South African opening bowler marked an unusually long run-up, beyond a point where the present-day 30-yard circle would be. Surprisingly, the wicket-keeper too crouched way behind the full length of a cricket pitch. Someone in the crowd joked: “Bowler ta ke ekta auto deke de re.” (Get the bowler an auto-rickshaw).
Ravi Shastri was on strike. The first delivery thudded into Dave Richardson’s gloves. Shastri had not seen it. Neither had the spectators, though many said later that they had not ‘seen’ anyone bowl faster. Welcome Allan Donald!
Shastri did not survive the over. Soon Sanjay Manjrekar and Navjot Sidhu left and India were three down for close to nothing. There was an uneasy silence around. An intriguing battle between bat and ball followed and the bat, led by Sachin Tendulkar, won that day.
That was the beginning of a new cricket rivalry, not as intense as a India-Pakistan, but perhaps just as intensely compelling. When India and South Africa meet on the cricket field, there is never a dull moment.Consider the 1993 Hero Cup semi-final where Tendulkar bailed India out—not with the bat!—but bowling seam-up, and defending six runs needed off the the last over; the 2002 Champions Trophy semi-final in Colombo where South Africa lost after Herschelle Gibbs retired hurt due to cramps with 70 runs left and nine, yes nine, wickets in hand; the first individual ODI 200, hit by Tendulkar, came against the Proteas in Gwalior in 2010; or Yusuf Pathan’s swashbuckling century at Centurion in 2011 after India were reduced to 119/8. India-South Africa matches over the past three decades have given cricket some of its most memorable moments.
The two team’s World Cup rivalry was actually going the India-Pakistan way—till MS Dhoni’s boys won handsomely by 130 runs at the MCG in 2015, South Africa had won all their three previous World Cup encounters between the two teams.
This time too the odds will favour India when Virat Kohli leads his boys out at the Rose Bowl on Wednesday. Faf du Plessis’ side has already lost both their matches, to England and Bangladesh, and are reeling under injury blows to pacers Dale Steyn (ruled out of the tournament) and Lungi Ngidi. Hashim Amla missed the Bangladesh match after a blow to the head, and is just about fit again.
“But still South Africa are a very talented, a very dangerous side on their day and even with the replacements, they will be a very strong side,” Kohli said at the pre-match media interaction.
India are favourites to bring back the Cup. A loss in the home series to Australia and in the opening warm-up match against New Zealand are the only two setbacks in their recent past, but that is compounded by their openers Rohit Sharma and Dhawan struggling a bit. Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav, following a poor IPL, is not a certainty in the 11 any more.
Talking of IPL, the domestic league has sparked another rivalry, this time on a more personal front. South Africa quick Kagiso Rabada targeted Kohli recently, saying that the Indian skipper is ‘immature’ and can’t handle it when someone gives it back to him. This is a psychological battle, because on Rabada’s young shoulders lie the responsibility of spearheading South Africa’s bowling. He is in form after a solid IPL show where he ended up second behind leg-spinner and compatriot Imran Tahir on the wicket-takers’ list.
“Look whether Ngidi plays, or Steyn plays or not, Rabada is always going to be a world-class bowler and a threat to any side he plays against. He has the kind of passion and he has a kind of skill-set that he can, on his day, go through any batting order, so we’ve played well against him in past and that is only because we have been respectful of his skills. But at the same time, we have been assured and sure of what we want to do as batsmen,” Kohli said.
As the powerful limited overs juggernaut of India takes on a cornered South Africa, expect nothing less than yet another extraordinary encounter.