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  • Writer's pictureSaurabh Nagpal

South Africa make waves in Delhi, engulf Sri Lanka in the Proteas fire

The Rassie and Quinton 204-run show

Despite an early wicket, six boundaries in the opening 14 balls fed into our expectations of how elite teams – those which mean business – play white-ball cricket now, regardless of its length. Thanks to a mix of T20 tactics and the recent success of England’s approach in the 50-over format, the traditional way has been ruptured. Starting with a bang, maintaining the rate in the middle, and then finishing with another bang is the money now.

Courtesy of better defensive bowling from Sri Lanka, the seventh boundary came 28 dots and six overs later, and with it came a mini realisation that unlike in the shortest format, 300 balls is actually a long time and not every ball is a battle to be won. Some balls, in a comforting way, are still meaningless. This is the luxury of one-day cricket – there is still time to breathe. It might be diminishing, but it still exists, and that’s a good thing.

48/1 was the score at the end of the powerplay. 70 for no loss came in the next ten. There wasn’t much movement off the pitch on offer as Quinton de Kock and Rassie van der Dussen gradually shifted gears. By the halfway stage, they were breezing like a happy wind on a spring day. The trademark de Kock front-foot pulls, full-face drives, and reverse sweeps were out. Van der Dussen also wasn’t shy of exploring the lengths and breadths of Kotla.

An authoritative pull in front of square, dispatched almost disdainfully, brought de Kock’s 83-ball ton. As soon as the ball had struck the meat of his blade, there was a powerful punch in the air and a loud outcry of raw emotion – it was the sound of a man who scored his maiden World Cup ton and not his 18th century in ODIs. The southpaw had successfully marked the start of his World Cup-long farewell party in an emphatic manner.

Next ball, he was caught at mid-on, attempting to recreate the same shot, but the launchpad for the Proteas to take off was in place... if one can say that they were still to take off despite the scoreboard reading 214/2 before the end of the 31st over.


Aiden Markram took a dozen deliveries before serving his first (of countless) acts of aggression by dispatching Dilshan Madushanka for three back-to-back fours.

Once van der Dussen was back in the hut for a foundation-setting, (nearly) run-a-ball 108, Markram got the license to vibe with Heinrich Klaasen, and the familiarity of new-age white-ball cricket was restored. We were home again.

The manoeuvring-for-singles and punishing-bad-balls bullshit was over. The smash-it-around-the-park and ever-ball-counts mentality was back baby. It was clean hitting, it was muscle, it was rapid bat speeds, it was fielders-are-spectators stuff, it was bowlers losing their heads, it was full tosses and wides for five.

Markram was on a rampage. He had the bit between his teeth. He was driving like a devil. He was ramping. He was reverse ramping. He was heaving havoc and hooking sixes.

Once a batter creates such chaos, inevitably things become easier. You’re seeing it like a beachball and the bowlers have lost their radar. Your supreme ability isn’t only bearing fruit in the present but it is also paving the way for the future. The difficulty of reversing the flow of momentum for a bowling unit at the death is unreal.

The spin-killing, six-munching monster that is Klaasen gave poor Wellalage nightmares on his World Cup debut. (A side: I think Klaasen’s ability to sweep supremely as well as to use his crease with such efficiency – be it rocking back and making space or stepping down and smashing downtown – makes him a spin-killer). He ended with 32 off 20 - 18 of them scored in maximums.

But Delhi, tonight, was Markram’s. His third six, to go with his 13 fours, brought him a 49-ball , 98%-control hundred - the fastest in the history of the men’s World Cup!

At last, when the third centurion of the day mistimed one and departed for 106 off merely 54, the sheekh kebabs and biryani from the neighbouring Jama Masjid should have beckoned, but the small matter of the second innings played the party pooper.

Throughout the match, taking a wicket proved a bittersweet experience for the Lankans – more bitter than sweet if we’re being truthful. Seeing the back of Markram brought no respite as Killer Miller (boy, how has he matured as a finisher post-pandemic) continued the barrage of sweetest striking, powering himself to 39* off 21 and his side to 428!

Gill? Conway? By all measures, it should be Bavuma’s World Cup as well

Temba Bavuma divides opinion. Folks tend to not love him more than they love him. Passionate fans are always ready to throw the kitchen sink at him for his T20 inabilities. Due to South Africa’s progressive policy of representation, he gets undeservedly pigeonholed as a ‘quota player’, and despite being South Africa’s best red-ball batter in recent times, he is overlooked to an extent in that format as well.

But like a key in a hole, a glove in a hand, a piece in a puzzle, the one-day format and Bavuma just fit. The demands of the ODI cricket and Bavuma’s best attributes – his busyness, his running between the wickets, his style of stroke-making and four-hitting – are in perfect sync with each other. The fact he opens the innings only boost his prospects.

He averages a mighty 52.88 in ODIs while striking at an above-average 91.3. In this year alone, he’s racked up 645 runs. His rate of scoring (104.5) and (71.66) are through the roof. The 33-year-old’s hype isn’t the same as Gill’s or Conway’s but his numbers tell a different tale – one which claims that he’s among the best openers this year.

He couldn’t cash in today. But the tournament is long and there will be chances aplenty. I hope he can showcase his skills on the world stage. His moment in the sun is the least that the Proteas skipper deserves.

SL bowling

1/90 from 10 overs. Kasun Rajitha.

2/86 from 10 overs. Dilshan Madushanka.

6/36 from 6 overs. Dasun Shanaka.

4/39 from 4 overs. Dhananjaya de Silva.

1/95 from 10 overs. Matheesha Pathirana.

1/81 from 10 overs. Dunith Wellalage.

And the numbers don’t lie. It was a hiding for one and all.

Building up to the World Cup, the onus rested with Sri Lanka’s bowling to win them games because the batters just aren’t quick enough or score big enough to tilt matches in their favour. But now bereft of Dushmantha Chameera and Wanindu Hasaranga for this campaign, with Maheesh Theekshana also missing out this game, the Lankans are in a pickle. The bowling lost its shine, the batting hadn’t been shining for a while.

If they keep encountering flat wickets which don’t turn, this World Cup can be a very long time for the Sri Lankans.

The only micro-positive for the Sri Lankans would’ve been the promise young Wellalage showed in the middle overs before Klaasen’s bitter pill.

When the left-arm spinner dismissed van der Dussen, who was previously dropped off him, there was a semblance of justice. With his reverse sweeps, the paddles, and nifty footwork, the right-hander had well-negated Wellalage’s range of tricks – the changes of angles and pace, the watching of the batter like a hawk and tampering his line and length as late as possible – but the docile nature of the deck as well as van der Dussen’s class meant that Wellalage didn’t reap many rewards in their fascinating tussle.

428 in the opener yet we still worry

The highest total in World Cup history. Most centurions in a men’s World Cup innings. An unadulterated display of batting dominance and monstrosity. And yet, there is still scope to worry.

As has been established, Sri Lanka’s bowling is wounded and the pitch was one of the flatter ones. Marco Jansen walking out at seven for any side will perpetually be a concerning factor, perhaps even more so when stakes get higher and the memories of… ahem… crumbling under World Cup-induced pressure resurface.

Playing a perfect tournament is a momentous ask, and the challenge for teams without a contingency plan will be bigger. The hope would be that the Proteas, at least amongst those in their camp, can prove the critics wrong and materialise the miracle.

The chase

Sri Lanka were never going to make it. Scoring quick and big is the Island Nation’s kryptonite. Props to them for reaching 100 in the 12th over; 200 in the 29th over; and for trying and making a game out of it.

A 25-ball half-century, six sixes in the six overs, including three in one Ngidi over, from Kushal Mendis saw them blaze out of the barracks. Effortless pick-up shots, flicks of wrists, nimble use of pace, and a spectacular ramp to an in-swinging Jansen delivery, the menace of Mendis was a one-man show. It lit up the powerplay. The humble contribution of his partner, Kushal Perera, in the first 53 runs for the second wicket was 0.

Mendis’ luck ran out on 76 off just 42, with all of his eight sixes coming behind the wicket, six between fine leg and square leg, in a masterful display of pace deflection. Once he was gone, Charith Asalanka’s 79 kept the flame burning, but you got the feeling it was a case of when rather than how.

Over a larger sample size, the bowling quality of this South African unit, pumped by the perpetual scoreboard pressure, was not an equal match for the Sri Lankan batters. The end would have come quicker had South Africa not dropped the elegant Asalanka twice.


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