Champions Trophy analysis: South Africa expose their short-game shortcomings against India again

While India progressed to the Champions Trophy semi-finals comfortably, South Africa failed to rise to the occasion once again, writes Dileep Premachandran.

India's Shikhar Dhawan, right, celebrates his fifty alongside captain Virat Kohli during their Champions Trophy match against South Africa at The Oval, Sunday, June 11, 2017. AP Photo
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It took South Africa 26 overs to nudge the run rate past five an over in their must-win Champions Trophy Group B match against India at The Oval on Sunday. It took them less than 10 overs after that to gift India the game.

Even if you go to their now-extensive back catalogue of capitulations in the matches that matter, you would struggle to find one as shocking as this.

AB de Villiers and his team did not just shoot themselves in the foot once, they emptied the entire magazine.

A score in the region of 300 looked likely with two of the team’s key batsmen, de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, at the crease.

De Villiers, in particular, had started off with real intent, easing to 16 from just 12 balls.

He would go no further, responding to a du Plessis call for a risky single and caught short by a combination of Hardik Pandya’s accurate throw and MS Dhoni’s lightning-fast gloves.

What followed was farcical.

After a game of yes-no-yes-no-what-on-earth, du Plessis and David Miller found themselves straining to reach the same crease, even as an errant throw finally found its way to the bowler’s end.

Minutes later, du Plessis inside-edged a slower ball from Pandya that he did not read at all.

The rest of the innings was a slow slide to extinction, as the last five Proteas to bat managed 14 between them. India’s bowling, mediocre in the defeat to Sri Lanka, found its teeth, with the addition of Ravichandran Ashwin giving them both a wicket-taking option and a spinner comfortable with bowling early in the innings.

It was Ashwin that dismissed Hashim Amla to end a threatening first-wicket partnership, while Ravindra Jadeja, who seems to bowl far better when his slow-bowling partner is on the field, gave next to nothing away in a spell of 1-39.

Both Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah bowled exceptionally, tightening India’s grip, when brought back in the middle overs, and Pandya finished superbly after taking some punishment midway through his spell.

After the batting meltdown, South Africa had one chance to salvage something from their day’s work.

When Virat Kohli, who started fairly tentatively, had got to 21, Andile Phehlukwayo got him to nibble at one outside off stump.

The edge flew to slip, where Amla reacted late and grassed the chance.

The look of agony on his face said it all.

India were on 65-1 at the time, and the loss of their captain might have been a major hiccup.

Whether they would have panicked is another matter.

Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh are World Cup winners, and the man at the non-striker’s end has made the Champions Trophy his favourite tournament.

Shikhar Dhawan has not been part of the Twenty20 squad since the World Twenty20 in March 2016, and he has not played any of India’s past 11 Tests.

But come the marquee 50-over competitions, and Dhawan has to be one of the first names on the team sheet.

His scores in India’s Champions Trophy triumph in 2013 were 114, 102 not out, 48, 68 and 31.

This tournament has seen him score 68, 125 and 78.

For once, there was no sizeable partnership with Rohit Sharma at the top of the order, and he needed to keep the scoreboard ticking as his captain took time to settle.

But Dhawan rarely lets the bad ball go unpunished, and he pulled and cut with power and fluency as Kohli played himself in.

As good as India were in all three departments, South Africa were awful.

De Villiers, Amla, du Plessis and Quinton de Kock all have formidable ODI records, but not one defining innings between them.

Come the big event and a match that mattered, South Africa’s stars went AWOL yet again.

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