| Man-of-the-Match Mohammed Kaif on way to his unbeaten 95 in Dhaka Sunday. (Reuters)
Dhaka: Young Mohammed Kaif led a merciless batting onslaught with an unbeaten 95 as India put up a commanding show to steamroll South Africa with a comprehensive 153-run victory in the TVS Cup triangular series here today.
Kaif and left-handed Dinesh Mongia (55 not out) plundered runs at will in the slog overs to steer their team to a mammoth 307 for four after electing to bat on a good batting track. Skipper Sourav Ganguly provided the early sparks with a controlled 75.
Required to score at more than six runs per over, the South Africans never recovered from the early jolts and were bundled out for 154 in 34.5 overs to give the Indians their second consecutive victory in the series.
The Indian bowlers kept the pressure on the Proteas by bowling a nagging line and length under floodlights to supplement the good work done by the batsmen.
Man-of-the-Match Kaif and Mongia set the Bangabandhu Stadium ablaze with an amazing display of strokeplay during their rollicking unbeaten 110-run fifth wicket partnership which left their opponents in a daze. Kaif struck seven boundaries and three sixes in his knock which came off 103 balls while Mongia was more severe as he scored his 55 in just 38 balls.
The South African run chase began on a disastrous note as they lost skipper Graeme Smith in the very second over of the innings with Ajit Agarkar providing the vital breakthrough.
Smith, the youngest-ever South African captain, edged an incoming delivery on to his stumps after scoring just one run.
Jacques Rudoph, who joined the action after his captain’s departure, did not survive long falling prey to the wily Agarkar with Virender Sehwag taking a brilliant catch at first slip.
The two quick wickets left South Africa gasping at 13 for two by the fifth over forcing Herschelle Gibbs and Boeta Dippenaar to play cautiously against the Indian pacers.
The two put on 42 runs for the third wicket before the South African batsmen made a beeline back to pavilion even though Zaheer Khan had pulled out of the attack with a hamstring injury.
Harbhajan Singh, who was introduced into the attack in the 14th over, struck in his very first over by getting rid of dangerman Gibbs (26) who offered a simple return catch.
Dippenaar joined him in the pavilion soon after with Sourav taking the wicket as the Proteas slumped to a precarious 57 for four by the 15th over.
Neil McKenzie (12) and Shaun Pollock (2) also joined the list of early casualties, falling to the spinners.
Debutant leg-spinner Amit Mishra captured his first wicket in one-day Internationals when he had McKenzie caught behind by Parthiv Patel while Harbhajan accounted for Shaun Pollock.
The remaining batsmen tried to hang in for the remaining overs but could only succeed in delaying the inevitable.
Earlier, Kaif and Mongia slammed rollicking half-centuries to elevate India to 307 for four.
Kaif and Mongia provided the spark to the Indian innings with a controlled exhibition of strokeplay and took India past the 300-mark after Sourav laid the foundation by notching up his 51st ODI half-century.
Kaif and Mongia put together a brisk 110 for the fifth wicket in just 11.4 overs against a severely weak South African attack. Mongia struck 55 off 38 balls while Kaif, who missed his second ODI cenutry by five runs, faced 103 balls and hit seven boundaries apart from three sixes.
Electing to bat, the Indians were lucky not to lose the dashing Sehwag in the very first over bowled by Charl Willougbhy with Robin Peterson dropping a fairly straightforward catch at the square-leg region to the dismay of new captain Smith.
Sehwag and opening partner Gautam Gambhir otherwise had no difficulty in negotiating the South African quick bowlers as Smith surprisingly decided against giving the new ball to Shuan Pollock.
Gambhir, who scored 11 in his debut match against Bangladesh Friday, was more aggressive of the two as he cut Makhaya Ntini for a delightful boundary and then struck Willoughby for a four in the next over.
The openers had put on 45 before Ntini got the breakthrough by removing Gambhir. The Delhi opener, who looked fairly comfortable in the middle, tried to pull one that had pitched outside leg and the ball kissed his gloves before being taken safely by wicketkeeper Mark Boucher.
The departure of Gambhir pumped Sehwag into a flurry of shots on both sides of the wicket, forcing the South African captain to introduce paceman Allan Dawson into the attack in the seventh over in place of Willoughby.
Sehwag and Sourav added 44 for the second wicket before a sudden rush of blood ended of the former’s belligerent knock of 37, which came off 44 balls and contained six boundaries.
Sehwag needlessly went for a mighty slog off Dawson but failed to time his shot properly and debutant Jaques Rudoplh took a well-judged catch at the long-on fence.
The run rate dropped after Sehwag’s fall as Sourav and Kaif concentrated on building another partnership. Kaif played the role of the junior partner with the skipper going for the big shots after having played some silken drives inside the first 15 overs.
Sourav picked left-arm spinner Robin Peterson for special treatment. The left-hander reached fifty with a single off Robinson and then clobbered the spinner for a six and four, forcing Smith to rearrange the field placement. The bowlers were left clueless as they searched for the right length to bowl.
Just as it seemed Sourav will take the game away from South Africa, Dawson broke the flourishing partnership by getting rid of the Indian captain who went for a big shot only to scoop a simple catch at mid-off. He struck seven fours and two sixes during his 80-ball knock.
Yuvraj Singh, who scored his maiden ODI century in the previous match against Bangladesh, joined the action and got into the act straightaway by smashing Smith to the point boundary but soon joined his captain in the dressing room following a mix-up with Kaif.
After getting rid of almost all the big-hitters, the South Africans must have started believing that they would restrict India well below 300, only to be stunned by the Kaif-Mongia onslaught.
The two, not often among the runs in the recent past, slaughtered the South African attack with some imaginative hitting. Their innings put to rest the question mark hanging over their inclusion in the team. They improvised well and played some good lofted drives between long-on and long-off. (PTI)