It was meant to be a battle between the two World Cup heavyweights but the manner in which South Africa were blown away by India on Sunday illustrated the gulf between the hosts and the rest of the teams competing at the 2023 tournament.
Three days after they skittled out Sri Lanka for just 55 runs to record a huge 302-run victory over the 1996 World Cup champions, India’s batting and bowling were once again on fire at Eden Gardens.
A century from Virat Kohli and a five-wicket haul from Ravindra Jadeja spurred the host nation to a 243-run win over South Africa — their heaviest ever World Cup defeat.
South Africa arrived in Kolkata with high hopes of defeating India considering they had won six of their previous seven matches and also enjoyed the kudos of being the only team to have beaten India when the Asian side last hosted the tournament in 2011.
On that occasion India imploded and lost their last six wickets for 13 runs as South Africa secured a three-wicket win with two balls to spare in a group-stage match in Nagpur.
Twelve years on and South Africa suffered the ignominy of being bowled out by India for 83 — their lowest ever total in a 50-over World Cup.
“The first 10 overs with the ball made it a challenge,” said South Africa captain Temba Bavuma, whose side struggled to contain a rampant Indian side which reached 61-0 after five overs and then 91-1 after 10 overs.
“Biggest challenge was taking wickets and India built big stands. The conditions are the biggest learning. Wicket played as we suspected it to play — expected it to deteriorate but we didn’t adapt well. It will be up to us to adapt our skills accordingly.”
Inevitably India did not sustain the early 12.2 or 9.10 run rates over 50 overs but a rock solid 101 off 121 balls from Kohli, who scored a record-equalling 49th ODI century to draw level with Sachin Tendulkar’s milestone, set the South Africans a daunting victory target of 327.
From the moment opener Quinton de Kock perished in the second over for five, the battle for survival proved to be a difficult one for South Africa, with seven of their batsmen failing to reach double figures.
“Going hard in the first 10 (overs) isn’t something we’ve discussed. That’s how (Shubman) Gill and I have batted together. We let our instincts take over,” said India captain Rohit Sharma, whose unbeaten side are guaranteed to finish top of the World Cup group standings after winning their eighth successive match.
“If the wicket is good, we keep going and things fall in place.
“Kohli batted to the situation… Jadeja has been really good. Big matchwinner. He keeps doing the job, goes under the radar but today is a classic case of what he does — score late runs and take wickets.”
Although both sides had already qualified for the semi-finals before Sunday’s showdown, the result at Eden Gardens has raised hopes that come Nov. 19, India will be lifting the 50-over World Cup trophy for a third time following their triumphs in 1983 and 2011.
“When we turn up, we want to play to our potential,” summed up Rohit.