Duminy does it for South Africa

In a contest that produced 399 runs in 39.4 overs, a few key aspects tend to get lost in the din. But with the advantage of hindsight, when one takes a closer look, it is not difficult to find the moments that turned the contest on its head and gave South Africa a 1-0 lead in the three-match T20 series here on Friday.

The scoreboard does not reflect the ease with which South Africa chased down the target of 200. Even when centurion Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli were setting up their 138-run second-wicket stand, before India posted 199 for five, the South Africans did not lose hope.

The 16th over, bowled by Kyle Abbott, brought back South Africa’s self-belief in trying circumstances when the fast bowler sent back Kohli and Rohit in quick succession. Thereafter, the psychological victory of keeping India below the 200-mark helped the visitors return to their dugout with added optimism.

The 16th over
Again, as it turned out, the 16th over of the South African innings provided the impetus the chase needed. With left-arm spinner Axar Patel getting his length wrong, man-of-the-match Jean-Paul Duminy smashed a hat-trick of sixes in an over that produced 22 runs. South Africa was back on course before the left-hander finished the job with a six and a single in the final over.

The match-winning partnership of 105 between Duminy and Farhaan Behardien was built on the sound foundation of 77 between A.B. de Villiers and Hashim Amla. The fall of the openers, followed by debutant S. Arvind’s wicket of skipper Faf du Plessis — all in the space of 18 runs — had raised visions of an Indian victory. But the resolute fourth-wicket pair did not give the hosts another reason to rejoice.

Before the dinner break, it was India that feasted on the hapless South African bowlers with Rohit coming up with a fortuitous, but classy century.

A whirlwind second-wicket stand that came off just 79 deliveries between Rohit and Virat had given the holiday crowd plenty to cheer about. Rohit’s 66-ball 106 studded with five sixes and 12 boundaries was the cornerstone of the Indian innings.

Kohli prospered in the company of a rampaging Rohit and contributed 43 off 27 deliveries as the two raised visions of India reaching a score of around 210.

Lucky escape
After du Plessis called correctly and chose to field, Rohit was lucky to survive Abbott’s first over. In fact, he escaped twice off one delivery. After getting the benefit of doubt following a leg-before appeal, Rohit almost ran himself out at the striker’s end. But off the very next ball, a confidence-boosting boundary past point soothed Rohit’s nerves. He helped himself to three boundaries, including two off Marchant de Lange.

Then disaster struck as Shikhar Dhawan, in an attempt to steal a second run off a misfield, fell short at the striker’s end.

Rohit continued to live dangerously when he offered a difficult return catch to a diving de Lange who almost made it left-handed. Once again, Rohit celebrated the reprieve by hitting a six and a four off Chris Morris. An over later, Kohli repeated the dose to Morris to show that he too meant business.

At the half-way stage, India was cruising at 86 for one with Rohit on a 42-ball 56, inclusive of a six and nine boundaries. That meant Rohit averaged a big shot every over and justified the strike he enjoyed.

India’s hundred came at the start of the 12th over with Rohit hoisting Tahir for a six over mid-wicket. A run later, Kohli smashed two sixes in succession.

The first one cleared the mid-wicket fence, beating the outstretched hands of de Lange and brought Kohli his 1000th run in T20 Internationals. The next ball was despatched to the long-off fence, past Behardien’s outstretched hands.

With three sixes off four deliveries and 21 runs off this Tahir over, the South African captain’s weapon stood truly blunted.

But, once India lost its way in the 16th over, South Africa bounced back and eventually emerged stronger.