In tough conditions in Chennai two centuries brought a key ODI to life
Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers are two names that will be in anyone’s list of great batsmen for the future. On Thursday (October 22), both of them made it a day to remember for the fans at the MA Chidambaram stadium in Chennai, unleashing their skills in equally impressive centuries under tough conditions.
As things turned out, it was Kohli’s 140-ball 138 that trumped de Villiers’s 112 off 107, as India kept the series alive with a 35-run victory in the fourth One-Day International.
After Kohli’s 23rd ODI ton helped India post 299 for 8 in its 50 overs, the spinners, led by Harbhajan Singh, restricted South Africa to 264 for 9, despite a strokefilled 22nd ODI century by its skipper. Suresh Raina also rediscovered run-scoring ways with a 52-ball 53, while Ajinkya Rahane played his part with a steady 45.
It was a typical Kohli knock, coming after quite a while. Under a harsh Chennai sun, Kohli controlled the pace of the game, stitched a couple of century partnerships, and even the aggressive celebrations seemed to return – Kohli thumped his chest after reaching his half-century while he flexed his biceps in the direction of the dressing room after getting to his 23rd ODI century.
For brief periods – when South Africa started its chase and later when de Villiers flaunted his array of strokes – it seemed like Kohli’s knock would go in vain. South Africa’s chase began on a brisk note, with Quinton de Kock feasting on some generous bowling by India’s pacers. India tried to emulate its South African counterparts by bowling short, but at lesser pace, it was all too easy for de Kock. Hashim Amla’s poor series continued when he pulled Mohit Sharma to square-leg for seven, but de Kock’s quick start meant South Africa coasted along to 63 for 1 in the first 10 overs.
The arrival of spin, however, changed that in no time. Harbhajan started the slide, getting de Kock to edge to second slip – the third time the South African opener was dismissed by an offspinner this series – in the 12th over. Faf du Plessis then edged Axar Patel to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and David Miller followed when he was trapped leg before by Harbhajan.
South Africa was struggling at 95 for 4 in 20 overs. With the ball almost turning square, the spinners, particularly Harbhajan, found the perfect pace to bowl at and were in complete control of the situation.
But the game wasn’t over, because one Mr. AB de Villiers was still there. India had a great chance to kill the chase when Amit Mishra deceived the South Africa captain in the air, but Dhoni missed the stumping to give him a reprieve on 35.
De Villiers added 56 with Farhaan Behardien and, although the required rate was constantly increasing, kept South Africa interested. Behardien had a reprieve on 22 when he was not given caught behind off Mishra, but two balls later, fell leg before to the legspinner attempting a sweep.
The dismissal gave de Villiers the freedom to go for his shots. He immediately smashed three boundaries off Bhuvneshwar Kumar to cross his half-century and followed it with some audacious strokeplay against the spinners, slog-sweeping and reverse-sweeping Mishra and Harbhajan to the fence.
At the other end, Chris Morris was run out by a direct hit from Rahane, but de Villiers didn’t seem bothered. The Chennai humidity led to cramps but he carried on. Two consecutive sixes – off Harbhajan and then Mishra – took him past his 22nd ODI century. His first fifty had taken 66 balls but the second came in just 32.
All of a sudden, the target seemed manageable. Especially with de Villiers in the middle. South Africa began to hope, but Bhuvneshwar ended any chance of a fairytale finish when he had de Villiers nicking behind, trying to pull a short ball. The game was killed, and Bhuvneshwar helped himself to two more wickets.
Earlier, India won a crucial toss but South Africa’s pacemen called the shots in the first 10 overs. Rohit Sharma, after sparkling briefly, flicked Morris to midwicket and soon, Shikhar Dhawan succumbed to the short-ball tactic when he pulled Kagiso Rabada awkwardly for de Kock to take a stunning catch diving to his right.
The wickets left India in early trouble but Kohli and Rahane snatched the momentum with a counter-attacking century stand. The charge was led by Kohli. He stepped out to hit Aaron Phangiso for a straight six, went back to punch Steyn to the sweeper cover boundary and was also heavy on Imran Tahir, slapping him for a six over deep mid-wicket.
And with Rahane doing what he does best the pair added 104 from 110 balls for the third wicket with little risk. Rahane then fell, edging Dale Steyn to de Kock, and Raina joined Kohli, after getting promoted up the order. The pair shifted gears effortlessly. Raina, unlike in the last few games, took his time to settle in before launching an assault.
He lofted Rabada over long-on for a six and a four, and slapped Steyn through mid-off. At the other end, it was business as usual for Kohli. He toyed around with the bowlers, particularly the spinners, smashing them for big sixes down the ground and reached his ton with a massive six off Phangiso over long-on.
The partnership raced past 100 and the stage was set for a strong finish but South Africa again pulled things back brilliantly towards the end. Steyn and Rabada struck twice each and India managed only 18 from the last four overs. As it turned out, it didn’t prove too costly.
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