The format changes, the winner doesn’t. After losing valiantly the battle in white, India, except the rain-disturbed fourth ODI at Johannesburg, have conquered in blue. South Africa would definitely want to heal the humiliation of the 5-1 loss in the ODI series with triumphs in T20Is. But for that, from the first T20I, they should have bolstered their batting and strategised better against spin.
However, they fielded a second-string side against an in-form Indian team, preserving their prominent players for the Test series against Australia. Skipper JP Duminy defended the newbies in the team. But the Proteas’ 28-run defeat, engineered by Shikhar Dhawan’s 39-ball 72 and Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s 5/24 made evident that they were no match for the visitors.
Bhuvi’s day out
On a day when his teammates scored at a rate of more than 10 an over throughout the innings, Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s spell of 4-0-24-5 stood out like a shady park in the midst of a concrete jungle. The Wanderers track, even with its cracks, was laid chiefly to delight the batsmen, who mostly rule the roost in this format. Even India’s 203, the commentators doubted, were 15-20 runs short.
Then, Bhuvneshwar unboxed his tools and set about his craft. His first ball – short and wide and easy at 129 kmph – was an offering that Jon-Jon Smuts accepted with a slash to mid-wicket. This was perhaps his worst delivery of the day. And, among the best, were the fifth and sixth ball of that over. The fifth pitched a little wide outside off and swung back to beat Smuts’ uppish drive. The sixth was in the middle, fuller and Smuts did the obvious thing: attempted a flick but the ball moved away from him and went past the off stump. These deliveries were sufficient testimonies to his mastery over the last-minute subtle wrist-flex that enables him to move the ball in both directions.
But Bhuvneshwar, on Sunday, also put his knuckle to good use. Several struggled to score against his ‘knuckle ball’, Smuts fell for it first, holing out to Dhawan at square leg. He then priced out skipper Duminy with another slower ball.
“The knuckle ball (with the seam up) is something I’ve been working on for almost a year. Nowadays, you need to figure out new ways to get wickets,” he said after the match.
He returned in the 18th over, when South Africa had to score over 16 an over, to pick three wickets and snuff out the little hope they had after scoring 15 runs in the previous over.
In the last two years, Bhuvneshwar in T20s has bowled most of his overs in the Powerplay and at the death. In 22 matches, since the start of 2017, he’s picked up 36 wickets at an economy rate of 7.03.
Bhuvneshwar in this tour has been reiterating with his performances that he’s India’s primary bowler, who’ll be key to realising Kohli’s ambition of all-format world domination.
Lack of flourish in slog-overs
The one area India once again struggled was maintaining or improving the scoring rate in the last few overs. In the three ODIs they batted first, India had scored just 133, 116 and 103 in the last 20 overs. On Sunday, they made their highest-ever T20I Powerplay score – 78 – and were 110/3 after the first half of the innings. On a cracked-up yet batters’ friendly Wanderers track, the men in blue were expected to score at least 220. But, once again, their lower middle order struggled to muster a lot of boundaries in the final five overs. The South African attack, albeit inexperienced, did well in this phase to stop the Indians from getting to a humongous score.
“You have to give credit to South Africa for their slog-overs bowling. We were thinking 220 in the 16th over but when Dhoni got out we had to pull it back,” Virat Kohli said after the match.
Manish Pandey took 27 balls for his unbeaten 29 when the rest of his team-mates had a strike-rate of at least 130. That he didn’t get out and India won the game with ease might take the focus away from his subdued knock. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who scored at a rate of 81.17 in ODIs, made a 11-ball 16 and had it not been for Hardik Pandya’s two hits to the fence, India may not have crossed the 200-mark.
Misfields, fumbles and drops
South Africa failings in the field is like a Sherpa struggling to trek. To dive, slide and attack the ball when it’s racing through the ground and pouch it safely when it’s airborne is probably in the genes of the cricketers from the country of Jonty Rhodes. But their struggle on the field in a home match amazed their fans, perhaps also the Indians and certainly Sunil Gavaskar on air, who, on multiple occasions, expressed his surprise at the Proteas fumbling with the ball.
Farhaan Behardien was guilty of dropping more than once catch. The first one was admittedly tough: Suresh Raina’s slap off Paterson loomed over mid-off, Behardien ran behind, stretching his hands, but the ball kissed his fingertips before meeting the boundary ropes. But the second one was a sin: at long on, he dropped Virat Kohli’s catch – a sitter – off Tabraiz Shamsi (the bowler however dismissed Kohli in his next over to Behardien’s good fortune). Shamsi, then, dropped Pandey’s catch off Chris Morris in the 16th over. These drops apart, there were several occasions were the Proteas fumbled whilst picking the ball up or throwing the stumps down.
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