Melbourne, Feb 22: Shikhar Dhawan smashed a rollicking 137 as India rode on a clinical display to break their World Cup jinx against South Africa with an emphatic 130-run victory in a group B match here today.
Dhawan's career-best 137 propelled India to a comfortable 307 for seven before the bowlers performed brilliantly to bundle out the Proteas for 177 in 40.2 overs in what turned out to be a rather lopsided contest at the packed Melbourne Cricket Ground.
This was India's maiden World Cup win against South Africa after having lost the clashes in 1992, 1999 and 2011. With two wins from as many matches, India now have a very good chance of qualifying for the quarterfinals as group leaders.
It was yet another commendable show by the Indians, who came into the tournament with a string of poor results in the tri-series preceding the mega-event. Mohit Sharma (2/31 in 7 overs), Ravichandran Ashwin (3/41 in 10 overs) and Mohammed Shami (2/30 in 8 overs) kept the opposition batsmen under tight leash for better part of the innings.
The bowling unit fired in unison as South Africa never recovered once skipper AB de Villiers (30) fell short of his crease with Mohit's accurate throw on top of the stumps sending the destructive player back in the pavilion. De Villiers and Du Plessis were going strong at one stage adding 68 runs for the third wicket as South Africa reached 108 for two before the skipper got run-out.
Du Plessis (55) tried his best to stem the rot but once he mistimed a pull-shot off Mohit to Dhawan at covers, it was just a mere formality for the 'Men In Blue', who hardly put a foot wrong in front of the 86,786 crowd of which at least 75,000 were Indian supporters.
Tendulkar cheers Team India at MCG
With Sachin Tendulkar cheering them from the stands, it was an electric atmosphere at the MCG as Dhoni's men cantered home in style. The Indian dressing room erupted in joy and the players hugged each other after last man stading Imran Tahir was trapped LBW by Ravindra Jadeja.
Earlier, Dhawan bludgeoned his way to a career-best knock as India posted a commendable 307 for seven against the title contenders. Dhawan's 137 off 146 balls coupled with Ajinkya Rahane's 60-ball 79 set the platform for a commendable total despite yet another mini-collapse at the death when the winners lost five wickets for 46 runs in the last 6.3 overs.
En route his seventh ODI ton, that had 16 boundaries and two sixes, Dhawan earned the distinction of achieving the highest score by any batsman in a World Cup game against South Africa. The Delhi left-hander's love affair with South African bowling continued as this is his second ODI hundred against the Proteas in successive ICC tournaments, after having scored one back in 2013 in a Champions Trophy game in Cardiff.
Virat Kohli scores 46
The Indian top-order once again fired beautifully. Dhawan and Virat Kohli again had a productive partnership that yielded 127 runs for the second wicket. Kohli (46, 60 balls) again was playing the role of an anchor before a moment's indiscretion saw him gift his wicket to leg-spinner Imran Tahir by posting his long hop straight to Faf du Plessis at short mid-wicket.
However, Rahane was in a mood to make amends for his failure during Pakistan game as he matched Dhawan stroke for stroke during their rollicking 125-run stand for the third wicket in only 16.3 overs. Rahane hit seven fours and three sixes with Dhawan, who has regained his form just when it matters the most, started his innings from where he had left off against Pakistan.
It started with a clip off Vernon Philander to square leg boundary followed by a square drive off Dale Steyn. Then came an attractive cover drive as Dhawan got going. Any width outside the off-stump was dealt with ferocity. With the MCG track offering even bounce, the ball came to bat beautifully, just what the Delhi left-hander required.
It couldn't have been a better venue for Dhawan than the MCG as Melbourne is his second home, where he stays with his wife Ayesha and three children, when he is not on tour.
Typical Dhawan celebrations
Dhawan did give a chance at 52 when his flashy cut shot was dropped by Hashim Amla at backward point off Parnell's bowling but there was no looking back after that. The shot that got him his century was also just a push through the cover point region off Parnell that reached boundary.
The celebration was typically Dhawan, helmets off, bat raised and the arms stretched like wings with a sense of satisfaction in that wide grin. His first six was a slower delivery from Steyn that he picked early while the second one was the shot of the Indian innings.
It was a flicked six by Dhawan off a Morne Morkel delivery. It was a case of pure hand-eye co-ordination as Morkel bowled one fuller onto his legs and he whipped it over deep square leg with a little shuffle. Rahane also showed why he is rated so highly by one and all.
The six over long-off of Steyn's bowling was a pure delight as was his step out off Tahir to dispatch him for the maximum. For South Africa, Steyn bowled a brilliant last over with four dot balls to end with figures of 1/55 while Morne Morkel had 2/59 from nine overs.
Parnell recorded the worst figures of 1/85 off 9 overs with consolation wicket of Dhawan. Vernon Philander's (0/19 in 4 overs) injury also did create serious problems for the Proteas when Indian top order went all guns blazing.