A grey and fluffy cloud hovered ominously over the Hampshire Bowl just before the toss of India’s first game of the World Cup. Directly under the cloud, South Africa captain Faf du Plessis chose to bat first, despite the fact that his batsmen had let him down twice in the two matches they played so far; and despite the fact that the conditions were just about perfect for seam bowling.
The cloud stayed put all day, but by the end of the fourth over, it was seemingly hanging over only the South African dressing room. For, as Jasprit Bumrah bowled the best over of the match (and possibly the over of this World Cup so far), South Africa’s World Cup campaign, already poor in health, got a whole lot worse.
In the end, the Proteas conceded their third match on the bounce, losing to India by six wickets. For a while in the second innings, there was a little glimmer of hope for South Africa when Kagiso Rabada was making the ball fly this way and that (he even broke Shikhar Dhawan’s bat) and Andile Phehlukwayo dismissed the maharaja of chases, Virat Kohli, early. But Rohit Sharma put his head down and extinguished that glimmer with a near flawless and unbeaten hundred.
To give you an idea of just how poor South Africa’s batting was, consider this: when Sharma reached the score of 43, he was already the highest scorer in this match. He scored another 80 runs, many of those coming off Tabraiz Shamsi, who Sharma was especially heavy on. With his second World Cup hundred, Sharma may have won the match for India, but du Plessis’s side had lost it much earlier in the day.
So, back to that Bumrah over, his second, to relive just where the wheels came off for South Africa.
The first ball, to Quinton de Kock, was unplayable; the ball pingeing off a length and seaming away from the left-handed batsman’s willow by a hair’s breadth. De Kock wasn’t the only one to miss the ball, wicketkeeper MS Dhoni did too. Dhoni’s fumble caused South Africa’s openers to nick a single, and now Hashim Amla was on strike.
To Amla, Bumrah’s ball was fuller, sharper and faster. On pitching, it straightened and clipped the outside edge and flew to second slip, where Sharma took a low catch and Amla was gone, for 6 runs. In walked captain du Plessis and within a ball he nearly walked backed too. Kohli had set a Test match field—three slips and a gully, and Bumrah responded by sizzling in. The angled and full ball darted towards the new man, which du Plessis tried to drive but only managed to nudge with the inside edge of his bat. The chop missed his leg stump and streaked away for four runs.
Bumrah only got faster. The fifth ball of this over, bowled at 142 kmph, kissed the edge of du Plessis’s bat again, this time the outer one, and fell short of the cordon. He would slowly get used to the pace on the ball, but not de Kock. In Bumrah’s next over, he fed the frenzy in the slips, edging a 143 kmph ball to Kohli at third slip. The openers were gone, and soon, so was South Africa’s chances of posting a decent total.
The fact that they even got to 227 was a surprise, and for that the fans of the Proteas team (who were few and far between in the stands) will have to thank their lower order. South Africa’s numbers seven, eight and nine—Phehlukwayo, Chris Morris and Rabada—scored 106 runs between them and ensured that the three of them at least have something to defend when they bowl. All of them were in the wickets later, but their batsmen simply hadn’t done enough, the entire middle order foxed by the leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal.
Like Bumrah, Chahal had a great second over. Rassie van der Dussen, who had faced a lot of Chahal during the leggie’s first over, decided sometime during the spinner’s run-up that playing with a reverse bat will be the right way to go about things. So, instead of getting bowled around his legs, the right hander who became a left hander got bowled around his hands instead.
That was the first ball of Chahal’s over, and he would strike with his last ball as well. Du Plessis, who had tried to stem the bleeding and hung around for nearly 10 overs himself, couldn’t read Chahal’s googly and lost his off stump. So, the only thing du Plessis had won that morning was the toss, and as he walked back to the pavilion he would perhaps have wished he hadn’t.