South Africa won their first-ever bilateral series in India after Faf du Plessis’ first, Quinton de Kock’s second and AB de Villiers’ third centuries of the series helped the visitors soar to the highest total in the five matches, the highest at the Wankhede and the highest against India. They did not subject India to their biggest margin of defeat, but they did bowl them out more than 200 runs short of the target, no mean feat in batsmen-friendly conditions.
South Africa’s line-up enjoyed the track, which offered almost no bounce or turn, and applied aggression in waves reminiscent of the day nine years ago when they scored this exact number of runs against Australia at the Wanderers. Then, South Africa were chasing, this time they were making India’s bowlers do that. India have never conceded more runs in an ODI; South Africa have scored more but only by one. This was their sixth score over 400 and fourth in 2015 alone, and it underlined their ability to dominate opposition on their own turf.
India will be disappointed by the way their challenge died in both departments. Their bowlers began with an over-reliance on the short ball and then just ran out of ideas while their batsmen showed the right intent upfront but lost wickets trying to sustain the scoring rate. In the end, they conceded a second series to South Africa on the tour with the main event, the Tests, still to come.
The signs of South African authority were evident from the start. They raced to fifty inside six overs during which Hashim Amla became the fastest batsmen to 6,000 ODI runs. Amla was dismissed cheaply for a fifth time in the series but that did not have an impact on South Africa’s morale.
De Kock owned the pull shot and with the seamers failing to generate anything, MS Dhoni introduced spin in the seventh over. Harbhajan Singh kept things tight at first but the tension was routinely broken at the other end. South Africa grew in confidence, brought up 100 in the 15th over and appeared unstoppable until de Kock hit Amit Mishra in the air to mid-off and presented a chance. Mohit Sharma got fingertips to the ball but could not hold on. De Kock was on 58 at the time and Mohit’s mistake would prove costly.
He was seeing the ball well and found the rope so regularly, there was barely a need for singles. More than two-thirds of his runs came in boundaries but he reached his century, his fifth against India and eighth overall, with a single.
Du Plessis had almost been a spectator in the proceedings and allowed de Kock most of the strike but when de Kock was caught on the long-off boundary, he knew he had to take over. With de Villiers egging him on, du Plessis upped the ante, assisted by Dhoni using part-timers Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli against South Africa’s two most destructive batsmen. They pierced the gaps and hit with power as the intensity increased.
De Villiers injected impetus into the innings with his scoring rate – his fifty came off 34 balls – and du Plessis followed suit. After taking 61 balls to score fifty, he needed just 44 more deliveries to get a century, even as he battled cramps to get there.
South Africa entered the last ten overs on 294 for 2 but would have been wary of the squeeze that can strike with the new playing conditions. This time, they were not strangled. Du Plessis plundered 24 runs off the 43rd over, bowled by Axar Patel, even though he could barely stand up and had to retire hurt on 133.
Then, it was de Villiers’ turn. His century came off the 57th ball he faced to chants of “ABD” from the Wankhede crowd. South Africa were on the brink of 400 when de Villiers edged an attempted pull and was caught behind and India had finally got through the senior batsmen. Farhaan Behardien and David Miller had free reign to slog as hard as they wanted and they made the most of what time they had. South Africa scored 144 runs in the last ten overs. By the time India had that many, it looked as though a thriller might just play out.
India lost Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli in the first eight overs of the reply but Shikhar Dhawan, who had been middling until this match, and Ajinkya Rahane kept them in it. Rahane was particularly severe on Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir but neither of them targeted South Africa’s fifth bowler, Behardien, as much as they should have. Still, they applied pressure, forced mistakes from South Africa in the field and were on track despite the length of the journey.
Then it all changed when Kagiso Rabada proved there is no substitute for pure pace. He was brought back on in the 23nd over, angled a fuller ball across Dhawan and drew the leading edge. Hashim Amla fell face first taking the catch and India were faltering. In Rabada’s next over, he dished up a leg-stump yorker than snuck past Suresh Raina and broke the back of the Indian chase.
Rahane, who batted with composure and class and scored 50 off 41 balls, was feeling the heat. He holed out to midwicket off Dale Steyn, whose veins popped. In South Africa, the corks would have been doing the same as the series was all but sealed. India lost their last five wickets for 29 runs and South Africa secured a second limited-overs series on their longest-ever visit to India.