Proteas prevail in Nagpur thriller
Robin Peterson emerged as South Africa’s hero as they made India pay for a spectacular batting collapse by sealing a dramatic three-wicket victory in Nagpur.
Peterson thumped 18 not out from seven deliveries at the death to see South Africa to their target of 297 with two balls to spare and prove a point to those who have accused the team of choking on the big stage.
Half-centuries from Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers had helped the Proteas set a solid platform, although India will undoubtedly rue their failure to post a more substantial total after another majestic century from Sachin Tendulkar - the 99th of his international career.
He and Virender Sehwag, who made a typically explosive 73 off 66 deliveries, shared a riotous opening stand of 142 inside 18 overs, and India were ominously poised on 267 for one before Tendulkar departed, for 111, in the 40th over.
Incredibly, just 29 further runs would be added as the co-hosts crumbled to 296 all out, with the dramatic implosion taking much of the gloss off what was another Tendulkar masterpiece, an innings built on authentic yet powerful strokeplay, superb placement and wonderful pacing.
It appeared likely India would still secure the win they required to secure a quarter-final berth as South Africa went into the final over requiring 13 runs.
Peterson then took centre stage, inside-edging Ashish Nehra’s first delivery for four before heaving the seamer over midwicket for six to put his side in the box seat.
A scrambled two into the leg side followed before Peterson delivered the final blow with a glorious cover-driven four, sparking wild celebrations among his team-mates.
South Africa skipper Graeme Smith said: “For 15 overs up front we took an absolute beating. But for 75 we played some incredible cricket.
“Chasing 300 in the second innings was a hell of an effort from the guys and I think we're all pretty speechless. To get over the line chasing is just a massive, massive thing."
Opposite number Mahendra Singh Dhoni said: "We just needed the bowlers to bowl in the right spot, but they were under tremendous pressure.”
Amla and Kallis did much to set up South Africa’s victory following the early departure of Smith, who never looked comfortable during his 29-ball 16.
After lofting the ever-impressive Zaheer Khan over mid-off for four, Smith fell next ball as he attempted to repeat the trick and succeeded only in providing Tendulkar with a simple catch.
The elegant Amla was largely untroubled as he eased to 50 from 58 balls, although he was then fortunate to see Yuvraj Singh put down a regulation chance at short midwicket in Harbhajan Singh’s second over.
Harbhajan soon got his man as Amla, surprised by extra bounce as he looked to cut, edged to wicketkeeper Dhoni to depart for 61.
Kallis brought up his own half-century later in the over and appeared to be moving through the gears nicely following a conservative start, with a number of innovative sweep shots proving successful.
However, he was run out for 69 as he guided a Zaheer bouncer into the leg side and failed to make it back for a second run.
De Villiers has looked in excellent touch throughout the tournament and once again displayed a fabulous array of strokes as he struck 52 from 39 balls.
Yet after he was caught at deep midwicket in the 41st over off a fired-up Harbhajan, with whom he had earlier exchanged words, South Africa found it difficult to keep up with the required run-rate.
JP Duminy and Johan Botha each provided valuable knocks of 23 and the latter collected 10 from two Munaf Patel deliveries before holing out to substitute fielder Suresh Raina with 18 still required.
When Zaheer conceded just four singles from the penultimate over of the innings, the Proteas appeared to have blown their opportunity, but Peterson responded superbly to stun the excitable home supporters inside the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium.
It is difficult to comprehend how India failed to pass 300 with the bat earlier in the day given the admirable efforts of their top order.
If Tendulkar’s 120 against England was of the highest calibre, today’s innings, which spanned 101 balls, hardly suffered by comparison.
While Sehwag blazed away with typical abandon, the 'Little Master' once again showed how it is possible, for him at least, to score at quicker than a run a ball without straying from the orthodox strokeplay that has served him so well throughout his career.
A sensational opening partnership eventually came to an end when Sehwag, who once again struck the first ball of India’s innings for four, played on to part-time leg-spinner Francois Du Plessis, but Tendulkar continued to flourish alongside Gautam Gambhir, who made 69 from 75 deliveries.
When Tendulkar sliced Morkel to point with 10 overs remaining, the stage seemed set for India’s powerful middle order to fire their team beyond 350.
Instead, Dale Steyn, who had suffered more than most earlier in the day, returned to wreak havoc, with only Yuvraj and Dhoni of the remaining batsmen making it into double figures.
Dhoni finished unbeaten on 12, but could only look on in horror as his team-mates trooped back to the pavilion in quick succession.
Steyn finished with 5-50 and India were bowled out with eight balls unused. Their collapse would prove costly.