Four years ago, in Guyana, with Lasith Malinga producing a devastating late burst – four wickets in four balls – it was Robin Peterson who held his nerve to edge South Africa over the line at the World Cup.
In Nagpur, with 13 needed from the final over, Peterson was Cool Hand Luke all over again yesterday, taking 10 off the first two deliveries to set up a thrilling three-wicket win for the Proteas.
Not only did it revive South Africa’s campaign, but it could mark a turning point in their heartbreaking World Cup story.
Five years to the day after they chased 438 at the Wanderers Stadium against Australia, South Africa must have feared a pursuit of similar proportions as Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag clattered 142 in just 17.4 overs.
A moment’s carelessness from Sehwag gave them respite and after a 125-run stand between Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir had once again nudged South Africa towards the abyss, the outstanding Dale Steyn returned to turn the game on its head.
His first four overs had gone for 34. In the next 34 deliveries, he took five for 16, including a burst of three for two that ended the innings with eight balls remaining.
India, who had been 267 for one with 10.3 overs remaining, lost nine for 29 in a display of headless-chicken batsmanship that gradually silenced what had been a vociferous crowd at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium.
MS Dhoni, the India captain, watched it all unfold from one end, and he suggested afterwards that some of his players had been guilty of playing to the gallery. “The crowds want fours and sixes in India,” he said. “We perhaps looked for 40 runs too many and ended up with 20 too little.
“The batting power play [India lost four for 30] was the turning point. Once we lost those wickets, we should have curbed our instincts and tried to bat the full 50 overs. We didn’t do that."
South Africa’s chase had been beautifully paced by Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis and the run-rate pressure was taken care of by AB de Villiers and JP Duminy, who took 52 from the five power play overs, including 17 off one from Zaheer Khan, the seamer. But with both falling to Harbhajan Singh, it was left to the lower order to see South Africa home.
Faf du Plessis, playing just his seventh game, showed impressive maturity at one end, while Johan Botha, with 23 from 15 balls, and Peterson (18 from just seven) provided the big hits needed.
Having fumbled at the finish against England last week in Chennai, this reversal of fortune stands South Africa in good stead as they eye the final stages of the tournament.
“It’s massive for those guys,” said Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain. “Not just the confidence that they’ll take out of it, but the confidence that they’ve given others.
Steyn’s late spells took much of the attention away from another superb Tendulkar innings. Having raced to his half-century in 33 balls – there was one blast from the past, a ferocious hook for six – he then joined forces with Gambhir to give India the perfect platform.
But after both of them fell in the space of three deliveries, the innings unravelled. “With 20 overs to go, we’d have been happy to keep them to 340,” Steyn conceded. “To keep them below 300 was just a huge bonus.”
It will require a peculiar combination of results for India to miss out on a quarter-final place, but this defeat, after the tie against England, again casts doubts on their ability to go all the way.
Piyush Chawla was rested, with Munaf Patel preferred as part of a three-man pace attack, but both he and Ashish Nehra went for plenty at the end when the going got tough.
Harbhajan provided something of a silver lining with three wickets after a two-game drought, but the four-bowler strategy merely highlights the unhealthy dependence on him and Zaheer for wickets.
Two matches against title rivals, and no wins to show for their efforts.
A week of soul-searching awaits.
V Sehwag b du Plessis 73
S Tendulkar c Duminy b Morkel 111
G Gambhir c Kallis b Steyn 69
Y Pathan c Smith b Steyn 0
Yuvraj Singh c Botha b Kallis 12
MS Dhoni not out 12
V Kohli c and b Peterson 1
Harbhajan Singh b Steyn 3
Zaheer Khan c Morkel b Peterson 0
A Nehra c Smith b Steyn 0
M Patel b Steyn 0
Extras (lb2, nb1, w12) 15
Total (for all out; 48.4 overs) 296
Fall of wkts: 1-142 (Sehwag), 2-267 (Tendulkar), 3-268 (Gambhir), 4-268 (Pathan), 5-283 (Yuvraj), 6-286 (Kohli), 7-293 (Harbhajan), 8-294 (Zaheer), 9-296 (Nehra), 10-296 (Patel)
Bowling: Steyn 9.4-0-50-5 (w6), Morkel 7-0-59-1 (nb1), Kallis 8-0-43-1 (w1), Peterson 9-0-52-2 (w2), Duminy 3-0-29-0, Botha 9-0-39-0 (w2), du Plessis 3-0-22-1 (w1).
H Amla c Dhoni b Harbhajan 61
G Smith c Tendulkar b Zaheer 16
J Kallis run out 69
AB de Villiers c Kohli b Harbhajan 52
JP Duminy st Dhoni b Harbhajan 23
F du Plessis not out 25
M van Wyk lbw b Patel 5
J Botha c sub (Raina) b Patel 23
R Peterson not out 18
Extras (lb7, w1) 8
Total (for seven wickets; 49.4 overs) 300
Fall of wkts: 1-41 (Smith), 2-127 (Amla), 3-173 (Kallis), 4-223 (de Villiers), 5-238 (Duminy), 6-247 (van Wyk), 7-279 (Botha)
Bowling: Zaheer 10-0-43-1, Nehra 8.4-0-65-0, Patel 10-0-65-2, Pathan 4-0-20-0, Yuvraj 8-0-47-0, Harbhajan 9-0-53-3 (w1)
Result: South Africa won by seven wickets