If you grew up admiring Indian one-day cricket in the 90’s, you would have rubbed your eyes in disbelief after what transpired in the Champions Trophy opener between India and South Africa at Cardiff. All this while, if one were to pick the better fielding side between India and South Africa, there would be only one winner hands down. That wasn’t the case on Thursday, as India comprehensively outdid the Proteas in the department they pride themselves on most. Thus, in a match where batsmen from both sides made merry and bowlers looked incapacitated, India’s fielding was the clinching factor.
It was a great sight to see the Indians diving around and pulling off spectacular saves, which, for a change, set some panic in the South African camp. This is a far cry from the team of two decades ago when the likes of Srinath, Prasad and Kumble (with all due respect to them as bowlers) were easy targets out in the field, and leaked plenty of runs. On the contrary, this is a squad that thrives on throwing itself around and making a difference to the team’s cause, which is exactly what happened at Cardiff.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that a couple of crucial moments in the field kept the match in India’s half. After posting a mammoth total, it was assumed that the Indians would have the upper hand. But Robin Peterson (the surprise choice at number three) and skipper AB de Villiers featured in such a stunning partnership that the Indian bowlers were left dazed. Both controlled their innings brilliantly, and ensured that South Africa stayed ahead of India. The worrying aspect for the Indians was that both of them were doing the same without even having to take calculated risks.
With the bowling looking pedestrian, the only way out for India was something special in the field. Ravindra Jadeja did exactly what was needed. He brilliant fielding effort, and subsequent presence of mind, ensured Peterson headed back to the pavilion. Jadeja then also took the catch to dismiss de Villiers at a crucial juncture. Athough the catch was a simple offering, people have dropped easier chances under pressure, and hence credit must go to Jadeja for holding his nerves. Another significant piece of fielding was the smart catch pouched by Suresh Raina to dismiss Faf du Plessis. The batsman was looking dangerous, but Raina saw to it that his stay was cut short.
The above-mentioned fielding efforts were responsible for India staying ahead instead of constant fightbacks by the Proteas, even negating the late blast that came in the unexpected form of Ryan McLaren. There were quite a few positives for India in this memorable match, not least of all the sublime century by Shikhar Dhawan and the good supporting knocks from Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja. With the ball, the spinners kept India afloat even as the paceman were thrashed. But, undoubtedly, the stupendous fielding is the biggest takeaway for India from the match.
--By A Cricket Analyst