In Johannesburg, on a spicy pitch, India went down against quality bowling, its inability to quickly adapt to the conditions coming to the fore. But, even when Dale Steyn had his tail up on December 5, no Indian batsman threw his wicket away. They were up for a fight, even if their skills did not back them up. In Durban, chasing 281, it was a different story entirely.
The pitch at Kingsmead was not as quick as the one at the Wanderers and the moisture laden outfield meant that the ball had to be struck incredibly hard or timed perfectly to reach the boundary. Having conceded far too many runs, India once again needed its batsmen to paper over the cracks.
Shikhar Dhawan began the rot, cracking a short ball straight to point where JP Duminy pouched a sharp catch with consummate ease. With Steyn steaming in and keeping the batsmen pinned to the back foot, India saw a way out in attacking Lonwabo Tsotsobe. The idea wasn’t the worst one in the world, but the execution was poor.
Virat Kohli opened the face of his bat to steer to third man – a perfectly safe option back home, but fraught with danger when the ball is doing a bit – and edged straight to Quinton de Kock behind the stumps. Rohit Sharma then unfurled a pull, but picked out the very straight short midwicket fielder placed there for just such a shot. Hashim Amla extended his arms and leapt lithely into the air to accept the offering.
Ajinkya Rahane, playing in place of Yuvraj Singh, who was ruled out with back spasms, was greeted by a flurry of perfectly directed short deliveries, and when he attempted a half-hearted pull off Morne Morkel, he was given out caught behind although he did not appear to make contact with the ball. A sharp sound, coming from Rahane’s gold chain striking the grill of his helmet, may have misled the umpire.
At 34 for 4, India was out of the game, but South Africa was forced to take its foot off the pedal as dark clouds forced the lights to be turned on. AB de Villiers brought on JP Duminy in the 13th over, and South Africa rushed through its overs. When the first drops fell on the ground, the 19th over was in progress, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni helpfully edged to the keeper.
Once 20 overs were complete, it was simply a matter of administering the last rites and South Africa was clinical, bowling India out for 146. A second consecutive hiding, this time by 134 runs, meant that India’s tour of South Africa had begun much as its recent harrowing tours of England and Australia, where it was blanked out.
If India was poor with the bat, it was not much better with the ball in the first half. India rang in the changes, switching to Plan B by bringing in the extra pace of Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma in place of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohit Sharma. It made not the slightest difference to South Africa as de Kock reeled off his third ODI century in a month – he has never failed to convert a half-century in his short career – and Amla delighted his home crowd with a chanceless hundred.
Amla and de Kock put on 194 for the first wicket, becoming only the second pair after Taufeeq Umar and Salim Elahi, against Zimbabwe in 2002, to put up 150-plus partnerships in consecutive ODIs. Amla set a record of his own, becoming the fastest batsman to 4000 ODI runs, getting to the milestone in 81 innings, seven fewer than Viv Richards, who held the record.
India’s quick bowlers were marginally better than in Johannesburg, resisting the temptation to bowl too short, but after Mohammed Shami beat the bat initially, there was no bite to the bowling. De Kock (106) and Amla (100) made batting look easy when it was anything but, and laid the foundation for yet another big total.
India picked up four wickets in the span of 40 runs to claw its way back into the game, but an expensive final six balls from Yadav, who conceded 45 runs from six wicketless overs, helped South Africa to 280. With the outfield being as slow as it was, that total was always going to take some chasing. In the end, India did not even come close.