Suryakumar Yadav played the best knock of his short international career but South Africa exposed India’s inadequacies against extreme pace and bounce to win a low-scoring thriller by five wickets in the ICC T20 World Cup 2022 match in Perth on Sunday.
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While Surya’s 68 off 40 balls will easily qualify as one of the most accomplished knocks in adverse conditions, India’s defence of a below-par total of 133 for 9 was always going to be a challenge.
Arshdeep Singh, the lion-hearted left-armer, did bowl another dream first spell, but Aiden Markram (52 off 41 balls) and David Miller (59 not out off 46 balls), one of the best T20 finishers in the game, ensured the target was achieved in 19.4 overs.
While South Africa (5 points from 3 games) are now on top of group 2, India (4 points from 2 games) with upcoming matches against Bangladesh (Nov 2 in Adelaide) and Zimbabwe (Nov 6 in Melbourne) are well within striking distance of a semi-final berth.
The team that may pay the price for India’s defeat is Pakistan, who now have an uphill task at hand.
India made a match of it on tournament’s spiciest track in cold conditions, but Virat Kohli’s costly miss of Markram at deep mid-wicket off Ravichandran Ashwin’s bowling along besides some close run-out chances cost India dearly.
But certainly not more than inept show from top-order save Surya, who was once again the saving grace and shining light.
Eerily, former India head coach Ravi Shastri, while watching the match with scribes in the press box commented that 14th over being bowled by Ashwin will be make-or-break. Markram and Miller hit a six each and 17 came off that over which sealed India’s fate.
Ashwin (1/43 in 4 overs) lost his confidence after the dropped catch and it showed in subsequent overs as Miller devoured on his length deliveries.
But if there was one silver lining from the game, it had to be Surya, whose little gem in terms of pure impact would have been on par with Virat Kohli’s brilliance at the MCG.
Perhaps the world’s most decorated T20I batter in recent times, Surya’s pulled six and a bowler’s back-drive boundary off Lungi Ngidi to complete his half-century will be remembered for times to come.
His knock will be in ICC’s T20 ‘Hall Of Fame’ and how he looked like batter from another planet was evident with the second best score being 15.
Those were the only boundaries scored off Ngidi, who enjoyed a wonderful evening with figures of 4 for 29 that laid bare the frailties of the Indian top-order when there is pace off the track and the ball starts rearing up from back of length.
On a track where good technique and steely temperament were needed, Surya added another component to it – swagger.
At 49 for 5, India looked deep down the barrel as some of the top-order players were failing to get their bats down in time as the ball reached the keeper’s gloves.
In a stand of 52, he shielded veteran Dinesh Karthik (6 off 15 balls), who is not exactly known for sound technique on bowler-friendly tracks.
On a bouncy track, the key element is to shuffle and come inside the line of deliveries and ride the bounce. The Mumbaikar exactly did that time and again on Sunday night.
He didn’t try to counter the pace, but used it to play behind the square mostly. When the lone spinner Keshav Maharaj came into operation, he used the extra bounce to first play the late cut and then a lap sweep over deep fine leg for a maximum.
Rohit Sharma’s (15) decision to bat first on a spicy deck looked brave and while all eyes were on Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje, it was reserve pacer Ngidi who did bulk of the damage.
But it all started when an out-of-form KL Rahul (9 off 14 balls) played a maiden over off Wayne Parnell’s bowling. The windy and cold conditions helped Parnell to pitch it full and get enough deviations to beat Rahul’s bat multiple times.
That increased the pressure on skipper Rohit, who first tried to relieve the pressure with a hooked six and flicked boundary off Rabada but Ngidi bowled the 'heavy ball’ that was pitched back of length and climbed on him.
His lean run continued as Test match length, shade away movement and extra bounce outside the off-stump became his undoing.
Virat Kohli (12) had his first low score in the tournament.
It was Surya who saved India from blushes with a knock that had six fours and three sixes but couldn’t save the night.