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The experience of being at the India v South Africa WC match at the MCG

India v South Africa - Melbourne Cricket Ground
The Indian crowd celebrating their side's dominance on Sunday night

At first glance the main story of Sunday’s World Cup match at the MCG between India & South Africa should be the result of the match with India excelling in all aspects and winning by 130 runs.

But in fact it was the crowd and what it brought to the game that was the real story of the night. Speaking personally as someone at the match, the crowd atmosphere was something I hadn’t come close to experiencing previously in the hundreds of sporting events that I’ve been to at the MCG.

The massive crowd of 86,876 was 90% at least Indian supporters and the joie de vivre they brought to the match was something to experience. From the leadup to the match at 2pm to when the match finally ended just before 10pm there was always a buzz of pleasure emanating throughout the crowd.

Appearances of Indian players on the scoreboard pre-match, singles taken by Indian players, dot balls by Indian bowlers were celebrated by the crowd with the intensity  cricket crowds usually treat the winning of the match. Major events in the match such as the run out of AB De Villiers brought a reaction from the crowd that could’ve been heard across the continent. On the atmosphere and liveliness of the crowd alone it was a one-off experience.

And what of the match itself? There has been discussion about how much of an advantage the overwhelmingly pro-Indian crowd had on the match and being there it can’t be denied that the support was so intense and passionate from ball one it seemed India’s destiny to win.

But that would be doing the Indian side a disservice as they produced a superb all-round performance to leave negativity about their poor one-day form in the World Cup leadup well behind.

Probably the biggest surprise of the match was the respective pace bowling of both sides. With the acclaimed pace trio of Steyn, Philander & Morkel one would’ve expected the South Africa pace attack to be much more imposing and yet they seemed to bowl within themselves in their opening spells. While they kept things tight, they seemed happy to keep things tight instead of being really aggressive and going for wickets. Even when they shook up opener Dhawan with a couple of short balls early on, they didn’t bowl short balls consistently to him until too late in the innings when he was well set.

In contrast, India’s pace attack – expected to be their main weakness – bowled with more fire with the new ball. In particular they shook up the South African batsmen consistently with aggressive short deliveries throughout the innings, and were rewarded with several wickets. The generally timid South African batting performance was in part because they’d underestimated what the Indian pacemen were capable of.

Also of concern for South Africa was how long a batting tail they had on Sunday. Since their readmission, South African sides have been famed for their all-round depth due to a plethora of quality all-rounders such as Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener and best of all, Jacques Kallis. However, the South African batting lineup on Sunday looked heavily over-reliant on Amla, Du Plessis and especially AB De Villiers. Indeed, when De Villiers was run out it felt as if any chance South Africa had of chasing 303 went with him. And with a lower batting order starting with Parnell at 7, it looks like arguably the longest tail a South African side has had since readmission. Indian captain Dhoni smartly bowled spin from both ends against the tail knowing their limited techniques would be exposed quickly.

For India, their two comprehensive wins to start the tournament have put the negativity of their lengthy winless streak in Australia and a poor one-day tournament in the leadup behind them.  Not only have they impressed with bat and ball, but their fielding on Sunday was of an excellent standard, the standard required to win World Cups.

But as impressive as India’s performance was, the abiding memory of Sunday’s match was the incredible crowd atmosphere at the game; even the final at the same ground next month won’t be able to match it.

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