South Africa’s players backed up their captain AB de Villiers’ denial that they were the underdogs going into the three-match ODI series against India in the most emphatic fashion possible by dominating the tourists en route to a 141-run defeat at the Wanderers.
Hometown boy Quinton de Kock - clad almost exclusively in pink like the rest of his team-mates - smashed 135 and was ably supported by Hashim Amla, de Villiers and JP Duminy as the Proteas piled up 358 for four despite being invited to have first use of a potentially juicy pitch by Indian captain MS Dhoni.
South Africa’s bowlers, led by the ever-impressive Dale Steyn, then showed India’s seamers how to bowl and dismissed them for 217 despite a promising second-wicket stand between Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma.
India were always going to be vulnerable in conditions that are about as different from those at home as it is possible to find and having had hardly any preparation time in them coming into the series. However, they will still be disappointed with the way in which their seamers failed to make the most of conditions that were more helpful than most they have encountered over the past three months.
Amla and de Kock made sure to capitalise on anything remotely loose, with the baby-faced de Kock the aggressor during an opening stand of 152 which spanned fewer than 30 overs. Amla was finally bowled by the pick of India’s attack, Mohammad Shami, who ended with three for 68, but by then the stage was set for the late innings onslaught.
De Kock began it by completing the second century of his fledgling career and going onto make a career-best 135 off 121 balls before falling to Kohli’s medium-pace. De Villiers and Duminy then garnered 105 runs from the following 46 balls. De Villiers fell in the final over for 77 off 47 balls, having hit four sixes, with Duminy unbeaten on 59 off only 29 balls, having cleared the rope five times.
India’s batsmen should have known what to expect when South Africa opted to exclude leg-spinner Imran Tahir in favour of a six-pronged pace attack. It was Morne Morkel who made the initial breakthrough, having Shikhar Dhawan top-edging a pull shot.
Sharma and Kohli then offered some hope for any travelling Indian fans with a second-wicket stand of 46. However, an indecisive Kohli was caught at slip off Ryan McLaren, with Yuvraj Singh bowled two balls later for a duck, and Sharma run-out by David Miller after being called through for a tight single by Suresh Raina.
That made it 65 for four and the writing was already on the wall. Raina was also run-out to make it 108 for five, with Ravindra Jadeja (29) and R Ashwin (19) then partnering MS Dhoni to at least give the total some respectability.
Only the most optimistic of India fans would have thought that Dhoni could still pull off the win and, while he did his best, he was ninth man out for 65 off 71 balls to hand Dale Steyn a deserved second wicket. Shami followed four balls later to give him his third.
A look at the economy rates of all the bowlers on show truly does hammer home how well Steyn and Morkel bowled for the hosts. They both conceded fewer than four runs per over, with no other bowler on either side conceding fewer than Lonwabo Tsotsobe’s 5.78.
Both India’s bowlers and batsmen have a lot of work to do if they are to level the series when the two sides meet again in Durban on Sunday.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni: "We have had just three days break between the West Indies series and this tour. We had good practice session for the past two days, but sometimes it isn’t easy to adapt quickly, given the schedule.
"Bowlers let us down more than batsmen. Experience is missing, but Mohit Sharma was also a bit unlucky."
AB de Villers: "Subcontinental teams usually find it tough to cope with South African conditions. Indian batsmen are better than what they showcased today.
"We are happy with the result, but we cannot take it easy. Durban might not be a similar wicket and India can definitely bounce back."
Quinton de Kock: "I was just trying to survive initially. Very happy with the hundred and my family was here, watching their first international match at the stadium, so hopefully I have done them proud.
"Maybe the Indian bowling could have pitched it up a little bit, because I could get behind the short balls easily, especially at their pace."
© Cricket World 2013