Axar Patel and Bhuvneshwar Kumar claimed three wickets each to complement MS Dhoni’s brilliant counter-attacking 92 not out as India successfully defended a below par 247. Needing less than five runs an over to win, South Africa were, at one stage, cruising at 134 for 2 when JP Duminy was dismissed by Patel for 36 as he missed a sweep. Patel struck a double blow when he had Faf du Plessis caught after he had just reached a half-century. The batsman hit one on the up, but could not control the shot, and Virat Kohli took a smart catch to have South Africa four down.
The Proteas still held the edge, but the first-ball dismissal of the out of form David Miller, caught behind off a nearly unplayable delivery from Kumar brought India right back into the game. India firmly edged ahead when AB de Villiers was sent back by Mohit Sharma as the South African skipper tried to stay positive and hit out against the medium pacer. De Villiers’ wicket gave India a massive fillip. But, South Africa kept chipping in with the big shots. They were lucky when Farhaan Behardien was wrongly adjudged caught behind off Harbhajan Singh on 18. Kumar then finished off the tail to take India home by 22 runs.
Earlier, under-fire Indian captain Dhoni led from the front with an unbeaten 92 from 86 balls as India recovered from a precarious 124 for 6 to post a reasonable 247 for 9 batting first. The Indian captain, with a point to prove, almost singlehandedly took India closer to 250. His innings was divided into two parts. Initially, he ran hard between the wickets and accumulated ones and twos as India looked to stem the flow of wickets. In the latter part of the innings, he either blocked or hit the big shots as India did not have wickets in hand. Luckily for India, a number of his big shots found the middle of the bat and raced away.
Dhoni featured in two crucial partnership during the course of the Indian innings. He was the dominant partner in the 41-run seventh wicket stand with Kumar. Although the latter scored only 14, he held one end up, and allowed Dhoni to gather some crucial runs. Following the exit of Kumar, Dhoni found a more enterprising partner in Harbhajan Singh. The latter hit two fours and a six in a run-a-ball 22 before being sent back by Dale Steyn. Dhoni then smashed crucial boundaries off Steyn and Kagiso Rabada, taking India closer to 250.
Although Dhoni finished off the innings with a six against Rabada, his struggles against the left-arm pacer continued as he failed to score off the previous five deliveries. The finish was still better than the start. In form Rohit Sharma had his off-stump cartwheeling in the second over by Rabada. Shikhar Dhawan gave his wicket away with a nothing short. And, though Ajinkya Rahane crossed his fifty, he lost his wicket immediately afterwards, bowled round the legs by Imran Tahir. This was not long after he has featured in a mix up with Kohli, which saw the latter being run-out. Morne Morkel undid Suresh Raina with the short ball, and had it not been for Dhoni, India wouldn't have reached 200.
--By A Cricket Correspondent