Opener Shikhar Dhawan bludgeoned his way to a maiden ODI century as a rejuvenated India kicked off their campaign in the ICC Champions Trophy with a comfortable 26-run victory over South Africa here today.
Chasing an imposing target of 332, South Africa were all out for 305. The Proteas lost three top wickets for six runs in the group B match.
The star of the show was Dhawan, who made 114 of a mere 94 balls to set the tone for India. The left-hander led a batting feast by the Indians, who piled up 331-7 against a depleted attack that took the field without premier fast bowler Dale Steyn due to a side strain.
South Africa replied with 305 all out following a defiant century stand between skipper AB de Villiers and pinch-hitter Robin Peterson for the third wicket.
De Villiers hit 70 off 71 balls, his sixth half-century in the last eight one-dayers and the fourth in succession. Peterson made a career-best 68.
Ryan McLaren gave India a fright towards the end with an unbeaten 71 off 61 balls, adding 48 for the last wicket with Morne Morkel, but the effort was not enough to snatch a dramatic win.
After starring with the bat, Ravindra Jadeja starred in the field too as he took the wickets of JP Duminy and Lonwabo Tsotsobe, ran out Peterson and caught de Villiers at mid-wicket.
South Africa lost both openers, Colin Ingram and Hashim Amla, by the fourth over, before de Villiers and Peterson swung the match around by adding 124 for the third wicket.
South Africa, who ran neck-and-neck in terms of runs with India till at least the 35th over, paid the price for losing far too many wickets after at least three middle-order batsmen frittered good starts.
Robin Peterson's departure in the 25th over opened the floodgates as South Africa lost three quick wickets, including the man who had the calibre to take the game to the wire, skipper A B De Villiers.
Two horrible mix-ups ruined the South African run chase.
Peterson, who survived a run out chance when he was on 29, was not lucky the second time as a diving Ravindra Jadeja caught him well short after De Villiers refused to run. The left-handed Peterson was out for 68 (72 balls, 6 x 4s) and his 124-run third-wicket partnership with De Villiers kept South Africa in the running even after the Proteas lost openers Hashim Amla (22) and Colin Ingram (6) to Indian pacers Umesh Yadav (2/75) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (2/49), respectively.
Peterson, struck on the elbow by a Yadav delivery when he was on 17, battled pain and stitched a confident stand with his captain till disaster struck.
J P Duminy (LBW to Jadeja for 14) followed Peterson and then a rush of blood saw De Villiers throw his wicket away after a polished 70 off 71 balls, his 33rd ODI half-century.
Earlier, Shikhar Dhawan smashed 114 off 94 balls as India posted a commanding 331-7 after being sent in to bat by South Africa in the Champions Trophy opener in Cardiff on Thursday.
The left-hander led a batting feast by the Indians against a depleted South African attack missing premier fast bowler Dale Steyn due to a side strain in a warm-up match on Monday.
South Africa's injury plight worsened when the other strike bowler Morne Morkel limped off the field with a thigh injury in his seventh over and was ruled out for the rest of the match.
Dhawan put on 127 for the first wicket with Rohit Sharma (65) and 83 off 77 balls for the second with Virat Kohli (31) as overcast conditions at the toss made way for bright sunshine as the day progressed.
India slipped from 210-1 to 260-5, but an unbeaten 47 from 29 balls by Ravindra Jadeja steered the World Cup champions past the 300-run mark.
Dhawan, a 27-year-old from New Delhi, rose to fame in March when he plundered the Australian attack for 187 off 174 balls on his Test debut.
He appeared to continue in the same vein, hammering 12 boundaries and a six, and reached his maiden one-day century with two consecutive boundaries off seamer Rory Kleinveldt.
The openers made a slow start, scoring just 15 runs in the first five overs, before the floodgates opened when Sharma drove Lonwabo Tsotsobe over the covers for six.
The first 50 came up in 10 overs, before the pair smashed the next 50 in 39 balls to bring up India's hundred in the 16th over.
Sharma, who looked in fine touch during his 14th one-day half-century, gifted his wicket in the 22nd over when he pulled Ryan McLaren to Robin Peterson stationed at square-leg.
The only 'life' in his 94-ball innings came immediately after he scored his century. A B De Villiers missed a stumping chance after the left-hander stepped out to off-spinner J P Duminy and missed the line. That blemish apart, Dhawan was the toast of the Indian crowd, almost 70 per cent of the 16000-strong turnout.
After Sharma got out for 65, Dhawan featured in a 83-run second wicket partnership with Virat Kohli (31 off 41 balls). Kohli also holed out in the deep off Tsotsobe, Dhawan followed soon after in the 38th over, caught at square-leg off JP Duminy, and the in-form Dinesh Karthik fell for 14.
If South Africa can chase down the Indian total, it will be a record at this venue.
The highest successful chase here is 258 for three by Australia against Pakistan in a NatWest series match in 2001.
Interestingly, all the seven completed ODIs here have been won by the team batting second.
Interestingly, in the last six years only two left-handers have made ODI hundreds against the South Africans. Kumar Sangakkara did it in Johannesburg in January 2012 and it was Dhawan's turn today.
Pakistan and the West Indies are the other two teams in the group, with the top two advancing to the semi-finals.
India: 331 for 7 in 50 overs (Shikhar Dhawan 114, Rohit Sharma 65; Ryan McLaren 3/70)
South Africa: 305 all out in 50 overs (Ryan McLaren not out 71, A B de Villiers 70, Robin Peterson 68; Ravindra Jadeja 2/31, Bhuvneshwar Kumar 2/49, Ishant Sharma 2/66, Umesh Yadav 2/75).
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