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Suryakumar stands tall against South Africa’s pace barrage in Perth but Team India falters

Ngidi, Nortje, Rabada and Parnell produced sustained hostility as the Indian top order and middle order crumbled.

IND SASouth Africa's Lungi Ngidi, centre, is congratulated by his teammates after taking the wicket of India's Hardik Pandya during the T20 World Cup cricket match between the India and South Africa in Perth, Australia, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Gary Day)

Till the end, the match continued to twist and turn as only a low-scoring thriller could.

For India’s fans the Group 2 encounter against South Africa in Perth was a match they lost, won and lost again.

The defeat-stamping moment came when David Miller gloved Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s third ball off the last over beyond the keeper’s head, reducing the required target to one from three balls.

Miller shovelled the next ball through cover to close out a riveting thriller that had everything a T20 game could offer, from unending drama to a high-class skill-set.

The devastating what-could-have-been moment came in the 12th over of the game. At this juncture, South Africa still needed 72 off 51 balls.

Miller and Aiden Markram had stitched a partnership that had restored hope. Then Ashwin laid a carefully-woven trap. He stationed a long-on and deep midwicket. He deliberately pulled his length back and bowled slower through the air.

Markram swung the ball to the direction of the deep midwicket fielder, Virat Kohli, the team’s safest pair of hands in the deep.

He had to backpedal but seemed to find the spot to complete the catch reverse cup. But Kohli slipped, metaphorically.

He watched agonisingly as the ball bobbled out of his palms. Kohli, after his super-human innings the other night, was rendered human, prone to mistakes as all humans are prone to. Such is the cruel nature of the sport.

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He slumped to his knees in dismay. Then scrambled to the feet in disbelief, but the ground beneath him seemed to slip away. At the bowler’s end, Ashwin was gesturing wildly. Rohit Sharma punched the air in anger. It was that precise moment when India seemed to desert hope.

Five balls later, Sharma himself missed a run-out chance of Markram. He had all three stumps in sight, and was 10-odd yards from the stumps but his underarm shy evaded the stumps. The last embers of hope seemed to die out. Miller then began to bring on the afterburners. He struck Ashwin for a six; so did Markram. The target in the giant electronic scoreboard read 34 off 27 balls. Yet, somehow, India somehow regrouped and rediscovered hope. Hardik Pandya snaffled Markram and later, Ashwin nailed Christian Stubbs. Belief kept bubbling up till the third ball of the last over. The moment that India finally gave up in this bewitching match.

But as much as the drama that kept coming, the match would be remembered for the sheer quality of the diverse skills that shone in the match. The short-ball barrage the South Africans orchestrated dusted up memories of Curtly Ambrose and Co. frightening batsmen at the WACA, just over the bridge across the Swan River.
The Optus is steadily gathering that intimidating aura of Perth. But having a bouncy pitch and exploiting it are entirely different propositions. South Africa’s seamers came well equipped and drummed up sustained hostility. They were relentless in pounding the surface for hard length balls that bulleted into the batsmen’s bodies. India’s batsmen responded with pulls and hooks, but they were made to look utterly incapable of quelling the fire. Five of the top six perished when pulling, but without any control. This seemed like the 90s all over again, when India hopped and jumped to keep off the bouncing darts. The most successful of the quartet was Lungi Ngidi, who accounted for the top three plus Hardik Pandya. But the meanest of them was Anrich Nortje.

Only a quality batter at the peak of his prowess could repel them. That was Suryakumar Yadav, his 68 off 40 balls, the finest yet of his career. The scorecard screams his quality. The next best was 15; only one other batsman crossed double figures. India struck nine fours and five sixes; six fours and three sixes came off his blade.

That is he alone accounted for half of India’s runs and three-fourth of their boundary count. Amidst all the chaos around him, he found resounding clarity. Rather, not even the direst circumstances made him bat differently. It spoke of his supreme confidence, his belief in his ability to script something truly remarkable in every outing of his.

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Nothing fazed him; neither the pace nor the bounce. Or the situation he found himself in. The sigh of relief the South Africans heaved showed how valuable his knock was. Had he not gotten out in the penultimate ball of the 19th over, maybe South Africa would have been tasked with a steeper total than the 134 they conquered.

It’s barely a challenging total, but India did not give up too easily. They did not take the South Africa route of blasting hard lengths. Instead, they stuck to their strength, the ability to swing and seam the ball. Two swinging beauties of Arshdeep Singh had South Africa reeling at 1/2 in 1.3 overs. He had evicted the two most dangerous South Africa batsmen, Quinton de Kock and Rillee Rossouw.

De Kock with an away-swinger and Rossouw with an in-swinger. Soon, they were 24/3 with Mohammad Shami ending Temba Bavuma’s ordeal. But then Markram and Miller stuck on, first weathering the storm and then attacking calculatedly to put on 76 runs, a match-swinging stand in a low-scoring game. Markram brought Test-match resistance while Miller took the deep and targeted Ashwin for the big shots.

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But what thrills and spills the game produced, as only low-scoring thrillers could.

First published on: 30-10-2022 at 20:06 IST
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