India goes down by 18 runs from position of strength as visitor grabs 2-1 lead with brilliant bowling display
It was meant to be a batting paradise. But when all was said and done, it was the bowlers that had the last laugh in the third One-Day International between India and South Africa at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium.
South Africa had scratched and clawed to 270 for 7 after Quinton de Kock's magnificent century and his 118-run third-wicket stand with Faf du Plessis (60) had set up a platform from it they had looked good for so much more. The bowlers, led by Morne Morkel (4 for 39), then upset all calculations on a fascinating Sunday (October 18) filled with twists and turns.
Rohit Sharma gave India a wonderful start with a stroke-filled 65. Virat Kohli (77) and MS Dhoni (47) then seemed to have the chase under control for so long while adding 80 for the third wicket in 112 deliveries that few would have expected the host to crumble. But crumble India did as Morkel made deep inroads, finishing on 252 for 6, conceding the match by 18 runs and going 1-2 down in the five-match series.
With what was thought to be a no more than a par score to defend, the last thing South Africa needed was shoddy fielding. Rohit had already cracked four lovely boundaries, laced with elegance and exquisite timing when Morkel let a straightforward catch go past him off JP Duminy. Three deliveries later, Duminy was again denied a wicket when he found Dhawan's outside edge, only for AB de Villiers, temporarily donning the big gloves in the absence of de Kock who had cramped up while batting, to spill it.
While the reprieve to Dhawan didn't prove costly as Morkel found his outside edge with one that moved away, Rohit wouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. There was the nonchalant sweep, the lofted hit down the ground, and the heave over the on-side as Rohit began unfurling his incredible range of strokes. The fifty came in trademark fashion as he picked the length of an Imran Tahir delivery early and smashed it over long-off.
Then, Rohit departed in tame fashion, giving Duminy the simplest of return catches. Duminy created the opportunity, though, dragging the length back on seeing the batsman giving him the charge.
Like South Africa earlier in the day, India chose to throw in an element of surprise, with Kohli walking in ahead of Ajinkya Rahane at No. 3. Kohli played a critical role, rotating the strike to take the pressure off Rohit. Kohli cut out the big strokes, running hard between the wickets. And with Dhoni for company, the duo unfailingly rotated the strike, punishing only the bad balls.
With neither batsman attempting anything extravagant, de Villiers spreading his field and choked the flow of boundaries. Sure enough, the required rate mounted and the first signs of aggression did not come until after the 35th over. But the duo's repeated attempts to clear the ground were foiled masterfully by intelligent bowling as South Africa kept banging the ball in, bowling at the body and packing the on-side field. Even as the apprehension in the Indian camp grew, South Africa walked with a spring in its step and the belief was almost tangible.
Anxious moments followed, with de Kock missing a stumping off Duminy after the bat flew out of a charging Dhoni's hands. Dhoni then bludgeoned one back to Duminy, whose only hope would have been for the ball to stick, which it didn't.
Dhoni found the fence a couple of times but with the rate mounting alarming, Morkel got the Indian skipper to hole out to short third-man off a short ball. By then, the required rate had climbed to 10, a difficult task on a surface where the ball wasn’t coming on at all. South Africa's excellent bowling and strategic field placements forced the Indian batsmen to press the panic button. Kohli and Rahane fell to Morkel, attempting pull strokes, while Suresh Raina was caught in the deep off Tahir. When Rahane fell with 28 deliveries left, India was 55 away. But with just Axar Patel and the tail to follow, the writing was on the wall.
When the day began, South Africa took a fair few by surprise by sending out de Kock and David Miller, their two least effective batsmen in the series, to open. Du Plessis had reassuringly spoken of the faith South Africa had in Miller and he did his best to justify that, playing strokes that had zing.
De Kock's return to form could not have come at a better time. He was circumspect to begin with, the ball finding his edge often despite the easy-paced nature of the surface. It wasn't until a flicked six over backward square-leg off Bhuvneshwar Kumar that de Kock grew in confidence.
De Kock pierced the gaps consistently, driving and punching with precision, while opening up at the slightest hint of width or shortening of length.
India missed as many as four opportunities to end his partnership with du Plessis. First, Mohit Sharma overstepped when an impatient du Plessis holed out to long-on on 15 off a slower ball. Raina then failed to hold on to a leading edge off Patel before Dhawan spilled a tough chance at short-cover with du Plessis on 53.
Dhoni could ill-afford to place attacking fields and wicket-taking options were limited, which meant India had to convert the half-chances. India failed to capitalise on another such opportunity when a du Plessis pull resulted in the ball dying on a diving Dhawan and escaping beneath his fingers. When du Plessis eventually fell, it was due to his own undoing, losing balance on the scoop off Mohit and finding short third-man.
De Kock, had in the meantime, raised his century with a slap through covers. But as is the case with most big partnerships, he followed suit soon, run out after a late response to a call from AB de Villiers.
Amit Mishra was the most wily and accurate of India's bowlers, deceptive in flight and keeping the batsmen guessing by bowling slower through the air. Mishra had Hashim Amla stumped when the batsman dragged his foot outside after missing the drive, leaving de Kock to play sheet anchor.
Once he and du Plessis fell, the onus was on de Villiers, who walked out to a rousing welcome that reiterated how popular he was in this part of the world. Patel ensured a short stay for de Villiers, trapping him leg before with an arm-ball, but Farhaan Behardien played smartly at the end to put up those extra few runs that made the difference in the end.
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