Shikhar Dhawan struck a maiden one-day international century to help India beat injury-hit South Africa by 26 runs and leave the Champions Trophy favorites on the back foot after the opening game on Thursday.
India, hurt by spot-fixing allegations in their home Twenty20 tournament, forgot their worries to seize the initiative in Group B after smacking 331-7 off their 50 overs and watching South Africa fail to get close.
South Africa’s gamble to open with Colin Ingram backfired when he was caught in the slips for 6 and despite Ryan McLaren hammering 71 not out, the Proteas were bowled out for 305.
India opener Dhawan, in his sixth ODI, scored 114 off 94 balls as he stylishly dominated the inconsistent South Africa bowling, which was already without stricken paceman Dale Steyn and lost Morne Morkel to a groin strain when bowling mid-over.
The International Cricket Council’s second 50-over tournament, set to be the final Champions Trophy, with a world Test championship slated for 2017, opened with a video by Britain’s Prince Charles — the Prince of Wales — welcoming teams and fans to Cardiff.
Early temperatures were still lower than average for Britain this month, but India openers Dhawan and Rohit Sharma soon warmed up the Indian-dominated crowd at a less than full Sophia Gardens.
With the South Africa field up for the first 10-over powerplay, the pair took advantage with a series of graceful shots as the bowlers struggled to extract any real movement.
South Africa captain A.B. de Villiers said talisman Steyn should be fit for the second game against Pakistan on Monday and on this evidence, his attack desperately needs him back, especially if Morkel is a doubt.
India reached 53-0 after 10 overs and never looked back, despite Sharma falling for 65 when he was caught by Robin Peterson off the bowling of McLaren, who ended up as the only South Africa bowler with any credit, with three for 70.
Dharwan had a life on 70 when Morkel failed to pick up a hook at deep-backward square and the ball sailed over his head for four after another bad ball by the struggling Rory Kleinveldt.
Virat Kohli (31) came and went before Dhawan was finally caught playing a lofted sweep off J.P. Duminy.
The South Africa bowlers limited the damage slightly late on, with big-hitting Dhoni out for 27, but India still scored the highest ODI total at the little-used Cardiff ground as Ravindra Jadeja finished on 47 not out.
Peterson shone in South Africa’s reply with a confident 68, before he was run out by Jadeja at midwicket after a mix-up with De Villiers (70).
They were ahead of the required run rate early on, but wickets began to tumble, with the captain going shortly after escaping a run-out when he top-edged a pull to Jadeja after clever bowling by Umesh Yadav.
David Miller was run out without facing a ball as Faf du Plessis slipped, leaving the Proteas with too much to do and McLaren’s late flurry always looked in vain.
In other news, Australia captain Michael Clarke has been ruled out of his side’s opening Champions Trophy match with England today due to a back problem, Cricket Australia announced yesterday.
Clarke, 32, has already missed Australia’s warm-up games with the West Indies and India, raising concerns about his participation in the Ashes series against England later this year.