Led by Kagiso Rabada, South Africa delivered a fine performance with the ball late in the game as they ground out a five-run win over India in the first One Day International in Kanpur Sunday, agencies report.
Despite Rohit Sharma bludgeoning 150 runs from 133 balls, the Proteas were able to restrict the hosts to 298/7 in their chase of 304 for victory.
Entrusted with the final over of the match, Kagiso Rabada (2/58) took two wickets to help the Proteas to a hard-earned triumph.
With 10 runs left to defend in the final over, the responsibility lay on the shoulders of Rabada who was able to produce the goods in the pressure situation, which included the scalp of Indian captain MS Dhoni for 31.
Chasing a record 304 at the Green Park, the Indians fell agonisingly short of the target in the last over.
With India needing 22 off the last two overs, Dhoni failed to finish the job after Rohit (150 runs off 133 balls) got out in the 47th over. The script went horribly wrong after Rohit’s departure as India crumbled under pressure to end at 298 for seven.
Rohit’s eighth ton in ODIs ended in a losing cause and it came after AB de Villiers’s unbeaten 104 off 73 balls that propelled South Africa to 303 for five, the highest score at this venue surpassing 294 made by the hosts in 2007.
India seemed set to chase down the total until they lost the plot in the final few overs with Dhoni (31), Suresh Raina (3) and Stuart Binny (2) falling well short of expectations.
They would have been nowhere near the target if it was not for Rohit, who opened the batting in Kanpur heat and lasted almost till the end. He scored 13 fours and six sixes.
India, however, began the chase smoothly, scoring at run a ball to be 90 for one in 15 overs. The start would have been even better had Shikhar Dhawan (23) been not adjudged lbw to a questionable decision with the ball appearing to go down the leg side.
Ajnkya Rahane (60), who was a surprise inclusion in the team, came in at no.3 ahead of Virat Kohli and alongside Rohit, forged a carefully crafted partnership.
De Villers enthralled the local crowd in the first half of the game and then it was the turn of their own hero Rohit, whose strokes square off the wicket gelled beautifully with his cover drives. Back in the side, Rahane too began in style, punching a cover drive off speedster Kagiso Rabada.
India seemed to be riding a steady ship with both of them at the crease, negotiating the pace heavy South African attack bolstered with the return of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
Rohit got to his fifty cutting gently over backward point for four and followed it up with a flick between mid-on and mid-wicket.
The innings was on cruise mode for the entirety of their partnership, milking the slower bowlers and making the likes of Steyn and Morkel struggle under the sun.
Rahane was caught at cover after he made room to play an expansive drive but his stay at the crease was enough to justify his selection that seemed unexpected after Dhoni himself said that it was tough to place him in the XI.
Rohit carried on in the company of Virat Kohli and reached three figures with an elegant flick over midwicket.
Steyn brought his team into the game by having Kohli caught at fine-leg to make it 214 for three and India needing 90 runs off the final 10. It was a T20 chase from thereon but India’s IPL specialists, Dhoni and Raina, came a cropper.
Earlier, captain de Villers completed a century with a six off the final ball of the innings to lead South Africa to a record score.
A packed stadium erupted when de Villiers (104 not out off 73 balls) smacked a six just over long on to bring his 21st ODI hundred, equaling the feat of teammate Hashim Amla and Herschelle Gibbs.
With premier bowler Ashwin not finishing his 10 overs due to injury, India pacers leaked heavy runs in the death overs, allowing South Africa to amass 109 off the last 10.
The final over of the innings, bowled by Umesh Yadav, went for 21 runs as de Villiers ended the innings in a dramatic fashion. Faf du Plessis came with a handy 62 in the middle overs.
After winning the toss, the visitors made a sedate start. Quinton de Kock and Amla were solid in their approach and waited for the odd loose ball offered by pacers Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
De Kock, playing his first competitive game of the tour, was the aggressor in the brief opening stand. Yadav, returning to action, gave the southpaw a few easy ones on the pads and he made full use of it. The left-hander struck five boundaries, four of which came though the leg side.
With his new ball bowlers not providing him the breakthrough, Dhoni went to his go-to-man Ashwin. He took just four balls to strike, having the dangerous Kock caught at first slip with a loopy off-spinner, leaving South Africa at 48 for one by the end 10 overs.
South Africa chugged along with another handy stand of 59 runs between Amla and du Plessis as the Indians started bowling with more discipline. The Indian skipper squeezed in as many as seven overs from part-timer Suresh Raina (0/37), who did well to keep things tight in his first outing with the ball on home ground.
Amla’s fall brought captain de Villiers out in the middle and that surprisingly attracted a huge roar from a sellout crowd. Du Plessis was going strong at the other end and he completed his 50 by hitting the first six of the match with a heave over deep midwicket.
However, he could not go on to score a big one. Yadav, who was wayward in his opening four-over spell, struck with the first ball of his second burst, trapping du Plessis in front.
De Villiers eventually got into his big hitting zone after the 40th over with the crowd cheering every one of his lusty blows.
The innings also saw Ashwin getting injured while diving off his own bowling in the 32 nd over. He went off the field for a while and that led to the premier strike bowler not being able to complete his full quota of 10 overs.
Fellow off-spinner Harbhajan Singh has been drafted into the squad as a precaution.
‘We should have won’
Dhoni said he was disappointed by the narrow loss which he blamed on his bowlers leaking runs in the final overs.
“The outcome was not great for us,” he said. “There were plenty that went wrong, but we showed character to get close. Frankly, we should have won this game.
“We missed the six overs from Ash (Ashwin) which was crucial because he is our best spinner. But the bowlers should have done a bit better.
“The partnership between Rohit and Rahane was superb. This was a fantastic innings from Rohit. It wasn’t an easy wicket to bat on but he made it look so easy.”
The second one-dayer will be played in Indore on Wednesday.