DURBAN: Less than nine overs into their chase of South Africa’s 280 at Kingsmead on Sunday afternoon, India were without their top four batsmen, the ‘talented’ Rohit Sharma, the ‘dashing’ Shikhar Dhawan, the ‘dependable’ Virat Kohli and the ‘promising’ Ajinkya Rhane all having trooped back to the hut. Sounds familiar? Well, it was. After getting a stick up their behinds at Johannesburg – where they were trounced by 141 runs in the opening match - India met with a similarly depressing fate at Durban in the second ODI to go down by 134 runs and lose the three-match series, without so much as a whimper of protest.
Once Quinton de Kock’s second consecutive ODI century and Hashim Amla’s 12th ton had delivered a masterclass of batting in difficult conditions, fast bowlers Lonwabo Tsotsobe (4/25) and Dale (3/17) wrecked India’s own willow-wielders for just 146 in 35.1 overs. In contrast, India had needed as many overs and conceded 194 runs just to get the first South African wicket after Dhoni had asked them to bat.
It was as ill-fated a chase as any. Dhawan (0, 2b) went to a slash in the third over; Kohli (0, 5b) edged Tsotsobe to the ‘keeper in the fourth over; Rohit’s pull shot was plucked from thin air at mid-wicket by Amla; Rahane’s comeback was terminated cheaply on a loose shot off a wide delivery from Morne Morkel. India were 34/4 after 8.4 overs. There would have been still a chance were the match being played on the soft-tops of the subcontinent.
But even on what was a relatively slowish pitch compared to standard South African fare, Dhoni’s batsmen could do very little but hope for a washout to save them. It almost came to be. As Vernon Philander steamed in to bowl the 20th over of the second innings – one whose completion would validate the contest irrespective of whether there was more play or not – a steady drizzle began.
India (70/4) were nowhere near the par score at that point. But the umpires ensured that Philander completed the critical over, one that also witnessed the last nail into the Indian coffin – skipper Dhoni’s dismissal for a tepid 19. Raina (36) spent some time in the middle before David Miller held a stunner at cover to send him back and Ravindra Jadeja, who had bowled so well earlier to arrest South Africa’s swift progress, struck a few biggies to soften the blow of another big defeat.
Earlier, Amla became the fastest ever to 4,000 ODI runs (in 81 innings), displacing Viv Richards (88 innings), en route to his 100 (117b, 8x4). His opening partner De Kock (106, 118b, 9x4) became only the third South African, after Amla and Herschelle Gibbs, to score successive ODI hundreds.
It may be considered a setback of sorts if a team falls well short of 300 after being 194 without loss in a shade above 35 overs. That South Africa managed just 86 in about 14 overs – and lost six wickets while getting them – after a record opening partnership was suggestive of not only the pitch being testy, but also of the skill of de Kock and Amla. The pair were untroubled in conditions where the ball was stopping just a little coming on to the bat.
The match was delayed by an hour due to a wet outfield – a postponement that caused the docking of two overs from the original 100, for a 49-overs a side game. A deflated India had rung in the changes: Yuvraj Singh (back spasm, really?) gave way to comeback man Rahane; Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohit Sharma were dropped for Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav. The hosts made just one change: bringing in Philander for Wayne Parnell.
Once Dhoni elected to field, the Proteas openers rustled up 58 in the first Powerplay without too many risks. Dhoni then forsook his three pacemen to bring in Ashwin and the part-timers, Raina and Kohli, from the 11th over on. Still, nothing special was required of the openers to keep milking the bowlers, as the 100 came up in the 19th over.
Amla, on 61, survived a loud shout for leg-before against Jadeja. It was only when South Africa opted for the Batting Powerplay in the 34th over that de Kock, having completed his century in 112 balls, swept Ashwin firmly but straight into the hands of the square leg fielder.
De Villiers’ promotion counted for very little as he was stumped off Jadeja. also within the Powerplay, and at the end of 40 overs, South Africa were 216/2, on track for another big total. No sooner that he had reached three figures, Amla was caught behind off a slow Shami bouncer. In the same over, Miller was adjudicated leg-before, despite a faint edge on to the pads.
Often criticized for being butchered at the death, India held the home team to just 64 off the last nine, with 20 of those coming in Umesh’s last of the innings. JP Duminy was good for 26 before he was run out and Shami added a third scalp when he bowled Jacques Kallis. South Africa finished well short of what they had looked good to attain at the halfway point of their innings, but their bowlers – and the ineptness of India’s batsmen - more than made up for it.