Cardiff: Shikhar Dhawan's maiden ODI century proved the crux of India's 331 for 7 in the opening match of the ICC Champions Trophy, in what unfolded as 50 overs of two differing halves. The majority of the momentum lay with India as their makeshift opening pair of Dhawan (114) and Rohit Sharma (65) put on 127, but from 210 for 1 India were pulled back by South Africa and where at one stage 350 looked on the cards, they had to settle for less.
Playing South Africa for the first time in a league-stage match in the ICC Champions Trophy - the previous two times had been semi-final fixtures in 2000 and 2002 - India were asked to bat in Cardiff by AB de Villiers and were given a superb start by Dhawan and Rohit. South Africa fielded four fast bowlers but the Powerplay overs consisted off a steady feed of short-pitched bowling which Rohit and Dhawan cashed in on.
India's first boundary came in the fourth over, with Rohit beating mid-off with a push off Lonwabo Tsotsobe. That opened up the gates for Rohit, who proceeded to drive Tsotsobe for six, pull Morne Morkel past short fine leg and slap Rory Kleinveldt for two fours in his first over. The fifty came up in the tenth over courtesy three runs from a firm drive by Dhawan, who then pulled the erratic Kleinveldt for two fours. The second of those was a chance at fine leg, except Morkel completely misjudged the catch. That over ended with Rohit punching Kleinveldt past cover for four more.
Dhawan then trained his focus on left-arm spinner Robin Peterson - incidentally the only survivor from the last India-South Africa Champions Trophy match in 2002 - and drove him for consecutive fours, each shot essayed with a big stride forward and clean follow-through. Rohit was the first to fifty - his 14th in ODIs - in 63 balls; Dhawan followed to the landmark in 44 balls, a suitable reply to his doubters in his first ODI for almost two years.
Relief came for South Africa in the 22nd over as Rohit (65) pulled McLaren to deep square leg, but it was momentary. Tsotsobe returned to bowl the 24th over and was hit for four and six by Dhawan; Kleinveldt was swatted over square leg for four more and when Tsotsobe dragged short again Dhawan slammed him over midwicket. Dhawan needed just seven deliveries to move from 90 to his century, which came up with another pull off Kleinveldt for four. He needed 80 balls. Off his 81st, de Villiers fluffed a simple stumping off JP Duminy.
Virat Kohli (31) helped add 83 in 13 overs before he too fell pulling out to the deep, and soon after Dhawan (114) swept Duminy to square leg (227 for 3). Dinesh Karthik, on his first ODI since August 2010, was unable to carry his strong warm-up form into the real deal, and made 14 before dabbing a short ball from McLaren to de Villiers. Suddenly India had lost four wickets with more than ten overs to go.
Suresh Raina (9) and MS Dhoni (27) fell in the pursuit of quick runs, but a full collapse was averted by Ravindra Jadeja, who larruped 47 not out off 29 ball to get the score past 300. South Africa did well to take five wickets for 113 runs after Rohit fell, but now need their batsmen to really fire.