Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane played the bowlers with absolute ease to hand India a 1-0 lead in the series after splendid efforts by Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. While the entire SA batting line-up struggled, Faf du Plessis seemed a cut above the rest as he scored a majestic century.
Brief scores: South Africa 269/8 in 50 overs (Faf du Plessis 120, Chris Morris 37; Kuldeep Yadav 3/34, Yuzvendra Chahal 2/45) lost to India 270/4 (Virat Kohli 112*, Ajinkya Rahane 79; Andile Phehlukwayo 2/42, Morne Morkel 1/35) by six wickets.
India missed a trick by taking spinners away
With the pitch being slower than a normal Durban pitch, India decided to play both their wrist-spinners and the part-time option in Kedar Jadhav. And it proved to be a good decision as the ball stayed low and spinners got enough purchase off the wicket and moreover, started a parsimonious spell. The entire South African top-order, albeit Faf du Plessis, failed to understand their deliveries and as a result, the team were reduced to 134/5 in 28 overs.
Logic dictated that the spinner would be given another couple of overs to build on the momentum, but instead, Virat Kohli, for reasons only known to him, handed the ball to Bumrah next. That move allowed the duo of du Plessis and Chris Morris to settle down on the wicket to form a partnership of 64 runs. When Kohli again decided to bring Kuldeep and Chahal in, they instantly reaped dividends with Chahal building from one end and Kuldeep picking wickets.
What worked in Kuldeep’s favour was his short stature, which allowed him the give the ball a natural dip. Some of Kuldeep's deliveries actually landed in the short of good length area and created a unique angle from over the stumps and apart from the South African skipper, no one was actually able to read them. And if Kohli would have persisted with the UP spinner for another couple of overs, the target would have been lesser.
Faf seems a cut above the rest
On a tricky spinning surface, South African top-order failed to get going and with the introduction of the spinners, lost the wickets continuously. However, Faf was exceptional in making decisions to leave or allow the full ball to come close to him and using his feet to push the ball in the long-on region. And the moment, when Kuldeep and Chahal
Like most aspects of his batting, his forward defensive stroke is also very unorthodox, for his front leg doesn't bend at the knee. He has managed this aspect by putting the bat in front of the pad and by going deep inside the crease at the first possible opportunity. Du Plessis has also been exceptional in finding gaps off the back foot. Against Kuldeep and Chahal, he kept playing inside the line that allowed the straighter deliveries to hit his bat and the ones that turn kept missing the outside edge regularly. Unlike most of his teammates, his forward foot movement helped him ease out the phase and since the pitch in Durban was relatively flatter, he employed the on-the-rise square drives against spin.
Rahane settles India’s No.4 conundrum, at least for the time being
India’s recent invincible form has mostly been down to the top-order performances and the lower order surges, but the middle-order failed to live up to the expectations, and the dilemma of number 4 spot was the biggest concern for the team. Since the 2015 World Cup, India have experimented with 11 different batsmen in the number four position and are yet to find the perfect fit. But with the World Cup being organised in the pacer-friendly conditions of England next time, Rahane seems to be the perfect fit for the role.
Despite playing 85 ODIs for the country, his career has remained in a flux, mostly because India failed to find an ideal spot for him. After playing the last World Cup in Australia at number four, he was deemed to the bench by then captain Dhoni, who publicly spoke about Rahane’s inability to rotate strike efficiently in the latter stages in ODI innings. But, with the realisation that there will be a very lower probability of slow and low conditions in England than the subcontinent, India decided to put Rahane once again at the position and how beautifully it has panned out.
With Rohit and Dhawan, he anchored the run-chase with Kohli and made sure that India remained in the game throughout. His strike rotation was sublime and his communication with Kohli made sure that he hasn’t lost a bit of his practice in the ODI cricket. With India scheduled to play three ODI series in overseas conditions in the next 12 months, Rahane, through this innings, made sure that he will now get a significant run of games to prove his versatility in the format.