The result means India is all but guaranteed to finish on top of the group and face Bangladesh in the second semi-final at Edgbaston on Thursday.
Once India’s bowlers – and South Africa’s chaotic running between the wickets – kept AB de Villiers’ team to 191 all out in 44.3 overs, all India’s batsmen needed to do was play conservative cricket and ease to victory. They did exactly that, the batsmen following the bowlers’ example while clinically demolishing the target. India reached there in just 38 overs, with Virat Kohli (76 not out off 101) and Shikhar Dhawan (78 off 83) helming the chase.
South Africa’s tournament was summed by one image when it batted, with both Faf du Plessis and David Miller scrambling to make the crease at the batting end while the stumps were being broken at the bowler’s.
Du Plessis had just steered the returning R Ashwin to short third-man and set off for a single. At the other end, Miller responded. Du Plessis took a few steps and changed his mind, turned back and dived into his crease. The only problem was, Miller had no idea du Plessis had turned around, and both men finished at the same end. The ball was thrown to the other for an easy run-out, and the third umpire had to be called on not to adjudicate whether a batsman was in or out, but which batsman had made his ground first. Miller was the unfortunate batsman who had to depart.
That dismissal was part of a collapse in which South Africa went from 140 for 2 to losing eight wickets in 16.2 overs, three of them to run outs. It had been reeling under the shock of de Villiers’ run out just five balls before the Miller-du Plessis mix up, and it was the captain’s dismissal that set off the chain of events where South Africa went from a reasonably strong position to abject capitulation.
Before the match, both captains had stressed the need to stay calm, not get overexcited and thus make clear decisions on the field. Only India lived up to those words while South Africa’s vulnerability under pressure was exposed in a scenario that has become an inescapable nightmare for it.
No single Indian bowler stood out from the others, but each of the top four – Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja and Ashwin – brought a variety of skills allied with discipline to keep the South Africans under a tight lid.
Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock had begun cautiously against Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah. Neither looked particularly fluent, with Amla especially not getting his feet moving well. It was Ashwin, included in the XI ahead of Umesh Yadav, who made the breakthrough, going flatter and quicker for Amla (35 off 54) to get a thick edge. MS Dhoni held an understated, but marvellous catch with little reaction time and South Africa was 76 for 1 in the 18th over.
Du Plessis began superbly, placing the ball well so that he was going at a run-a-ball without having hit a boundary till he was past 20. South Africa looked like it was regaining control after the sedate start, and even though de Kock (53 off 72) was bowled by a Jadeja quicker one, de Villiers looked in ominous touch. He and du Plessis were finding the runs and the fence easily from the start when disaster struck. Du Plessis drove the ball gently towards point and de Villiers took off. There was never a run in it, and even though he put in a Superman-like dive, Dhoni was too quick. Already dealt that blow, South Africa was effectively punched out when Miller was run out in almost comical fashion. The steady start and the gains made through speeding up were all lost with the score 142 for 4.
It was a swift slide from there, thanks partly to South Africa’s broken spirits and the Indian bowlers’ continued magnificence. Even Hardik Pandya, the weakest link in the bowling attack, made an important breakthrough in getting du Plessis to chop on for 36. Fittingly perhaps, the last wicket was once again via a run-out. JP Duminy, trying to farm the strike with only Imran Tahir left, called the leg-spinner through for a second after pulling to deep mid-wicket, but Tahir first hesitated, then responded and was sent back because it was too late. It was too late for South Africa to make amends for its horror batting show too.
Given the target, India’s batsmen were never under any pressure. Rohit Sharma and Dhawan could afford to take their time and get set. Both men had hit a six and a four each when Rohit tried to go big against Morne Morkel, only to edge behind to leave India 23 for 1 in the sixth over. But Dhawan and Kohli quelled any faint hope South Africa might have had, and any faint nerves India might have experienced, with a controlled demolition job of the target.
Their stand realised 128 runs at a run-rate quicker than five per over, which meant that the boundary was peppered fairly regularly and that India was coasting. Dhawan got fours square of the wicket on both sides, and Kohli’s trademark wristy flicks were very much in evidence. He even had his by now customary jaw-dropping six of the innings, hitting Andile Phehlukwayo back over his head with barely any follow-through after taking a couple of steps down the pitch. De Villiers chose to attack with his pacers only initially, and by the time Tahir came on, India was 70 for 1 in 16 overs. Tahir did manage to get Dhawan, but that was only in the 31st over, the opener skying a googly to du Plessis at long-off.
That was to be South Africa’s last moment of cheer though, as Kohli and Yuvraj Singh finished the job, Yuvraj setting the perfect seal on victory by lifting Duminy high into the stands behind deep mid-wicket to seal India's spot in the semifinals.
South Africa choke; India through to semifinals
South Africa choke; India through to semifinals