Not chokers any more then. South Africa dug deep to sneak home by three wickets with two balls to spare but India remain top of group B after a hot night at the VCA stadium.
The match’s top billing lived up to the hype as the precariously balanced momentum shifted back and forth. But with 13 needed off the final over, South Africa’s superior fitness and muscularity finally capitalised on India’s earlier negligence with the bat.
Robin Peterson’s vital 18 from seven balls put India’s lower order batting to shame. An excellent position of 267 for one with 10 overs left was criminally squandered, as India slumped to 296 all out in a blur of ill-judged slogs.
It is well known, of course, that the Indians drive with no brakes. That’s OK if the steering is in the hands of maestros like Sachin Tendulkar or Virender Sehwag. The vehicle sails merrily along avoiding obstacles, as it did on Saturday through the first half of the Indian innings.
Sehwag hit the first ball of the match for four – as, remarkably, he has done in every previous match in this tournament. It was an audacious clip over mid-on off Dale Steyn.
He followed that up with a lucky edged boundary between the keeper and slip off Morne Morkel, but he made a nonsense of Steyn’s reputation, clipping him languidly over square leg, uppercutting him almost for six and punishing Morkel for imagining he could bowl to a 7-2 offside field.
Meanwhile, Tendulkar was treating the ecstatic crowd to his usual masterclass of exquisite drives, flicks and deft deflections. There was also a breathtaking hook for six off Steyn. The 100 was up in the 12th over and South Africa were looking ragged.
With Gautam Gambhir accompanying the sprightly and ageless Tendulkar to his 99th international hundred after Sehwag had been bowled when cutting, a score of 350 looked on the cards.
But when both were out quickly, the rest of the batting indulged in some reckless driving and rammed the wall which was the rejuvenated Steyn. The last nine wickets fell for 29 runs leaving eight balls unused.
While India had begun in overdrive and suddenly ground to a halt, South Africa purred along in third gear for much of the time, with Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis eschewing risk.
The injection of AB De Villiers added acceleration as he used the middle, the edge and the back of the bat to good effect until inconvenienced by a knee injury requiring a runner.
When he was smartly caught by Virat Kohli at deep mid wicket, 74 runs were needed from 57 balls with six wickets left.
The Indian fielding had held up well but Gambhir dropped Morne van Wyk at deep square leg. Crucially the ball went for four.
Wickets continued to fall until 31 were needed off 18 balls. The clean hitting Johan Botha struck 12 off three amiable deliveries from Munaf Patel but was then athletically caught by Suresh Raina.
Zaheer Khan’s brilliant 49th over yielded just four singles leaving 13 required off the last, bowled by Ashish Nehra. Peterson inside-edged the first ball for four and clubbed the second over mid wicket for six and South Africa scraped home to stunned silence from 45,000 people.
But if their middle order batsmen had not gone off joy riding they would have been cheering not crying.