Winning a series overseas in any format, more so in Australia and South Africa, has to be celebrated because it is not a common occurrence. It took 25 years and six visits for India to win a limited-over series in South Africa. The first bilateral series win in South Africa is India’s ninth in a row, second only to the 14 that West Indies won between 1980 and 1988.
Still, Virat Kohli & Co will find their Test series loss hard to digest. It hurt them because there were stages in the first two Tests when they had an upper hand. But a win at the Bull Ring changed it all, and they suddenly started to look invincible. But the home team recovered their poise — or so it appeared — in Johannesburg, chasing down a stiff target to win a match that was hit by lightning and rain.
More than losing that match, the Indians were worried about the treatment their two wrist-spinners — Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal — got from the rampaging Heinrich Klaasen and David Miller. The duo conceded 119 runs in 11.3 overs.
Kuldeep and Chahal looked unplayable at St George’s Park on Tuesday — as they did in the first three matches — and the Indians were back to their winning ways. The spin twins smashed all records and theories by capturing 30 of the 47 wickets in the series so far. That’s appreciable for any bowling unit, and India will be back at the SuperSport Park for the last match.
This sport has a way of mocking experts. Before the fifth ODI, some questioned the selection of Rohit Sharma for the tour, dubbing him a subcontinent bully, and wondered whether Hardik Pandya was a batting or a bowling all-rounder.
Both hit back in their inimitable styles. Rohit notched up a match-winning hundred, and Pandya claimed two key wickets up front, apart from effecting a critical run-out and claiming a one-handed catch. The two have been subjected to clinical tests of sorts, questioning their temperament, technique and shot-selection.
Television channels juxtaposed video clips of Rohit and Kohli to show the difference in their approach to a similar delivery, pointing out their footwork and body’s balance while executing a stroke.
One pundit said that Rohit could get away in the subcontinent, but he struggled in South Africa where the ball seams and swings disconcertingly. His theory was based on Rohit’s scores from a few matches. What was not taken into consideration was that when form deserts a batsman, he will find unexpected ways to get out, like edging a ball while attempting to leave. It looked as if the best deliveries were reserved for him.
This expert criticised a little too soon, as it didn’t take long for Rohit to disprove his theory. All he needed was a little protection from Shikhar Dhawan. His partner provided it by keeping him away from Kagiso Rabada in the initial overs. Once Rohit hit the pacer way beyond long-on, that feeling of chill had gone. Rohit should be greatly relieved to score almost as half as many runs on Tuesday of what he has aggregated over 13 innings in four visits to South Africa.
Before his 115 at Port Elizabeth, he could only muster 131 runs in ODIs and Tests, and was dismissed six times after getting into double-digit scores. MS Dhoni was not spared either. Irrespective of the situation, they expect him to score at a fast clip every time he comes to bat. As Kohli put it it’s a total team effort.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed here are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)