London – Untimely moments of madness in their communication and judgement of sharp singles meant South Africa left themselves dangerously undercooked at the midway point of their critical ICC Champions Trophy match against India at The Oval here on Sunday.
The run-outs of two of their most dangerous batsmen by reputation, captain AB de Villiers and David Miller, in quick succession were the major flashpoints of the innings as South Africa unravelled fairly haplessly after adhesive enough foundations had been laid following their insertion by the Indians.
The Proteas ended up being bundled out for 191, with a criminal five and a half overs to spare.
In what amounted to a dubious cherry on top, the final wicket was also a run-out as Imran Tahir and JP Duminy got into another fearful mix-up.
The tiny silver lining, perhaps, to an awful showing in composure terms was that there was some assistance to all Indian comers -- both of the seam and spin type -- from the surface, though clearly the SA attack was going to have to make strong early inroads in reply to make a match of it.
Targets of 300 or more have been the norm in earlier Champs Trophy matches at The Oval; three of four times ahead of this contest.
The Proteas got an unusually studious but also acceptably swollen opening stand out of Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock, as they gradually came to terms with the challenges posed by the relatively worn surface, which was offering some movement off the seam early on.
The greatest moments of anxiety to South African enthusiasts tended to come in their hesitant approach to running between the wickets – a taste of things to come -- and Amla survived a major early scare (on one) when he was nearly run out by some two bat lengths in the third over, but for a missed throw at the stumps from Indian skipper Virat Kohli.
But they got through the initial new-ball pace burst, until India pointedly introduced off-spinner Ravichandan Ashwin, a Test-match nemesis of the Proteas, at the start of the 10th over and with SA on 33 without loss.
The Proteas registered their first half-century opening stand of the tournament in the 13th over, as the tempo ramped up a little, although boundary scoring was still proving pretty difficult.
But just when it seemed the alliance might become especially prosperous after the admirable early diligence, veteran accumulator Amla was dismissed caught behind, cutting at Ashwin, for 35 (54 balls).
De Kock, meanwhile, was gaining in authority and he went to his own first fifty of the event (68 balls) in the 24th over, although it is very seldom that he does so with only four boundaries to his name – a suggestion that decisive stroke-play on the surface was not especially straightforward?
In the very next over, however, his solid work came undone when he mistimed a sweep off the probing left-arm spinner, Ravi Jadeja, and was bowled for 53 off 72 deliveries (116 for two).
There were healthy signs of rapid fluency between Faf du Plessis and skipper De Villiers, the latter in need of a solid contribution to the cause after rare failures in both the prior Sri Lanka and Pakistan matches.
But then that fluency dramatically turned to over-excitement as two disastrous run-outs in the space of six deliveries rocked the Proteas right back on their heels and had the overwhelmingly India-favouring crowd dancing in the aisles.
First De Villiers – remember, struggling with a hamstring issue in the lead-up – rushed through for a quick single with Du Plessis on strike in the 29th over and despite a desperate dive, wicketkeeper MS Dhoni gleefully whipped off the bails with the Proteas’ kingpin just short of his ground – he had scored a quickfire 16 off 12 deliveries, but it was a savage blow to him and the SA cause.
It completed a forgettable group phase for the world No 1-ranked ODI batsman, as it came on top of his earlier scores of four and nought.
Things only turned more comedic, however, at the outset of the 30th over when Du Plessis and new partner Miller somehow conspired to find themselves scrambling for their ground at the same end, while the ball found its way to the stumps at the other, and India engineered one of the easiest run-outs imaginable.
The in-form Miller was gone for a paltry one off three balls and SA were suddenly in a real pickle at 142 for four.
It called for an urgent sense of calmness and a rebuild ethic, but wickets continued to fall at regular intervals as the fired-up Indians instead only turned the screws, their pacemen and spinners alike prospering and with sharp back-up in the field.
By the time the spluttering knock was put to a merciful end, Duminy had at least shown a semblance of durability with his unbeaten 20 off 41 deliveries.
*Rob Houwing is attending the Champions Trophy for Sport24. Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing