Shikhar Dhawan’s maiden One-Day International century and his 127-run opening stand with Rohit Sharma hoisted India to a commanding 331 for 7 in their opening match of the ICC Champions Trophy against South Africa in Cardiff on Thursday.
India were put in to bat after skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni lost the toss on an overcast and chilly morning.
If South Africa chase down the total, it will be a record at the venue, as the highest successful chase at Carfiff is 258 for three by Australia against Pakistan in a NatWest series match in 2001.
Interestingly, all the seven completed ODIs at the venue were won by the team batting second.
The morning session belonged to Dhawan. He was third out in the 38th over after scoring a well-paced 114, studded with 12 fours and a six.
The only 'life' in his 94-ball innings came immediately after he scored his century, A B De Villiers missing a stumping chance after the left-hander stepped out to off-spinner J P Duminy and missed the line.
That blemish apart, Dhawan was the toast of the Indian crowd, almost 70 per cent of the 16000-strong turnout.
After he got his eye in, the Delhi batsman batted with gay abandon, often stepping out to find the little gaps in a tight off-side field. When he was on 45, Dhawan was struck on his helmet after failing to shy away from a Ryan McLaren bouncer.
A cut behind his right ear did not deter the gutsy batsman, who raced to his second ODI 50 in 44 balls.
After Rohit Sharma was out for 65, Dhawan featured in an 83-run second-wicket partnership with Virat Kohli (31 off 41 balls) as he held the innings together till he perished in the 38th over trying to sweep Duminy but only managing to find substitute fielder Aaron Phangiso at square leg.
Interestingly, in the last six years only two left-handers have scored ODI hundreds against the South Africans.
Kumar Sangakkara did it in Johannesburg in January 2012 and it was Dhawan's turn on Wednesday.
India made a cautious start after being sent in to bat. But Dhawan and Sharma put the South African pacers to the sword on a Swalec stadium wicket that had plenty of runs in it.
At the toss, De Villiers said his pace quartet would make up for the absence of an unfit Dale Steyn. The script did not quite unfold that way.
India opted to play Sharma as an opener in place of Murali Vijay. Both batsmen had failed to score in the two warm-up games, but Sharma's experience and potential as an opener prevailed when it came to picking the playing eleven. Sharma aptly vindicated his skipper's faith.
It was important to respect the South African pacers in the initial overs. Morne Morkel, who left the field after a groin strain in the 34th over, was the more probing of the two new ball bowlers beating the edge of the bat a few times.
But there was little support from the other end as left-arm seamer Lonwabo Tsotsobe neither bowled the right line or length.
Dhawan was the first to open up, stepping out to Tsotsobe and slamming the first boundary of the innings after being patient for 16 balls. Sharma then fed off the burly left-armer with a four and a six as India shifted gears to end the first powerplay at 53 for no loss.
With Morkel and Tsotsobe failing to make a dent, De Villiers unleashed Rory Kleinveldt and Ryan McLaren. But the Indian openers were just too good for them. The skipper's disgust saw a spinner in operation in the 13th over. Left-arm spinner Robin Peterson was introduced to the attack.
He is the only survivor from the last India versus South Africa Champions Trophy match in 2002 in Sri Lanka. Peterson's two overs cost 19 runs.
Trying to flick McLaren, Sharma was out caught at the deep mid-wicket after scoring 65 off 81 balls. The knock contained a six and eight boundaries. Sharma's 14th ODI half-century will help skipper Dhoni breathe a little easy as India travel to The Oval in London to play West Indies next.
McLaren greeted Kohli with a bouncer that struck his visor. But confidence has been his middle name as the in-form Indian vice-captain wisely rotated the strike with Dhawan and was happy to play second fiddle.
The first of his two boundaries came after 36 balls, but then he was out trying to go for a big stroke.
Dhawan's exit saw a mini collapse of sorts as Dinesh Karthik, promoted to No. 4 was out for 14 and Raina (9) flattered to deceive after slamming McLaren for a six at mid-wicket. Both Karthik and Raina fell to McLaren, who was South Africa's best bowler on the day with 10-0-70-3.
Dhoni, caught at long-on for 27 off 26 balls, and Ravindra Jadeja (47 off 29 balls) made crucial contributions at the end as India went for T20-style quick runs in the slog overs.
India produced 82 runs in the last 10 overs with Jadeja the aggressor with seven fours and a six. But all credit for the 300-plus score will go to the openers who showed patience and poise when it mattered most.
Image: Shikhar Dhawan pulls to the leg side during his hundred against South Africa in the opening match of the Champions Trophy.
Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images