SOUTHAMPTON – It is difficult to understand what South Africa are up to. This is largely because they seem not to have a clue either.
In London, on arguably the hottest day this spring, they won the toss and elected to bowl first on a worn pitch.
In Southampton at the Hampshire Bowl on Wednesday, they chose to bat under a grey English blanket against India and scored 227/9 in their 50 overs.
While admittedly the confidence levels have taken a blow after two defeats and the loss of two fast bowlers to injury have further scrambled the minds, the Proteas’ just seem off the pace in all departments halfway through their third game of a disappointing 2019 World Cup campaign.
In contrast, India looked hungry and skilful in their tournament opener, with their senior players leading from the front.
With the conditions almost tailor-made for him, the World’s No 1 bowler Jasprit Bumrah laid down a marker in his very first over.
Quinton de Kock has long been India’s nemesis, once scoring three consecutive three centuries against the Light Blues, and also striking six half-centuries in his last eight innings.
But that was largely before Bumrah’s arrival on the global scene. Now De Kock had to contend with a swinging and seaming ball that fizzed past his outside edge four times in a row.
Somehow South Africa’s wicket-keeper managed to survive – on this occasion at least – but Hashim Amla was not so fortunate.
The veteran nicked off to second slip, and South Africa were 11/1.
It was not long before they were 24/2, when Bumrah got his man as De Kock was also caught behind the wicket.
There were moments of respite with Faf du Plessis (38) and Rassie van der Dussen (22) attempting to rebuild the innings, but such is the quality of India that they can switch effortlessly between seam and spin.
In the build-up to this game, there was consternation within the India camp about whether they would attack South Africa with the dual wrist-spin option of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal.
The Proteas’ track record against the slow poison should have rendered the debate worthless, for Chahal once again exposed their shortcomings.
The left-armer tore the heart of the South African middle-order apart, claiming 4/51 through a mixture of googlies, leg-breaks and top-spinners.
He was well-supported by Yadav, who maintained the pressure with 1/46 from his allotted 10 overs.
At one stage, South Africa seemed set to be rolled for under 200, but all-rounders Chris Morris (42) and Andile Phehlukwayo (34), as well as Kagiso Rabada (31 not out), carved out a total that have at least given themselves a semblance of hope.
* Follow IOL Sport on Twitter and Facebook for live updates, and visit our special Cricket World Cup trends page: www.iol.co.za/trends/cricketworldcup