India vs South Africa 4th ODI 2018

Shortly after David Miller slammed three successive boundaries off Hardik Pandya in the 19th over, the one immediately after his double reprieve, Virat Kohli was spotted on the deep mid-wicket fence trying to get Yuzvendra Chahal‘s attention asking him to get ready for another over while MS Dhoni continued to marshal the field from behind the stumps. There are few captains so adept at conveying so much with just a flourish of his hands. Kohli was frustrated but saw in his two spinners, India’s best chance of winning the truncated 28-over rain-affected game which had dragged his side out of their successful series template.

South Africa have spontaneously combusted at the very mention of spin in the series and understandably there was a sense of needling fresh scars in Kohli’s decision to stick with spin. Yet there was an inconsistency in Shikhar Dhawan’s post-match assertion about the wet-ball disadvantage and India’s bowling scorecard. Under less than ideal conditions for spin, Kuldeep and Chahal were called up to finish their quota of six overs each (Chahal had bowled 5.3 when South Africa won) while Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah still had overs up their sleeve.

Until then, Kohli, handicapped by the match situation, had shown acumen in the way he bowled the two spinners around the fifth bowler Hardik Pandya. Unlike the general pattern of bringing the legspinner Chahal before Kuldeep, the Indian captain brought the chinaman from the Golf Course End earlier so that if South Africa’s left-handers (JP Duminy, Miller) had to target the shorter boundary, they’d have to swing against the turn to Kuldeep’s conventional leg spinner – which the series had taught was a recipe in self-destruction. Chahal came on later from the Corlett Drive End and found respite after conceding two sixes when a rampaging AB de Villiersuncharacteristically hit a leg stump slower-ball from Pandya to the fine-leg fielder.

The dynamics of the contest had been changed by the 102-minute rain delay that forced India to operate with a wet ball. Despite the obvious disadvantage, India fashioned two more chances to leave South Africa five down but failed to cash in on both occasions. That led to a thrilling riposte from both Miller and Heinrich Klaasen – who somehow found conviction playing their strokes against the spinning ball. The required run-rate quickly spiralled down to 8 RPO but India opted against bringing their death bowlers in their bid to persist with their ‘spin factor.’

The danger with any game of chicken, though, is that sometimes the opponent doesn’t blink. And Miller and Klaasen cashed in to add 72 from 41 balls while the two spinners conceded 119 from 11.3 overs between them. “That time we needed wickets,” Dhawan said after the match. “Because the pitch was such and the ground was wet. So by stopping runs we couldn’t have won. Wickets were very important. So captain thought the spinners could take the wickets. Sometimes you take risk, it pays off sometimes, it doesn’t pay off sometime. It’s normal.”

Then Dhawan offered a rationale for India’s decision to bat first despite the forecast of rain, which favours the chasing side in terms of putting a target on the board. He said: “Took the decision to bat first because in the evening the ball moves here. There’s also the effect of the breeze, it can have a good impact.”

Having extolled the virtues of fast bowling under lights at the Wanderers and given the two spinners weren’t being as effective with the wet ball, it was a surprise to not see Kohli bring back his two death-overs specialists, even after the equation had reduced to a more straightforward 35 off 30. It was a decision that perplexed even the two set batsmen in the middle.

“Definitely, I was very surprised,” Klaasen exclaimed. “David and I thought they would have kept them at the backend for two overs each. But I think how this series went that led them to bowling their spinners for the remaining of the overs, but I was very surprised about it.”

Once the game reduced to a T20-like scenario, it was always going to be won by the team that committed fewer mistakes. India’s game plan, right from electing to bat first, had been taken with a full 50-overs-a-side match. It is why Dhawan said that the team was happy with a total of 289 despite threatening to score in excess of 330 during the Kohli-Dhawan stand. However, there will be times, like today, when the game doesn’t break in expected patterns, when the opposition cashes in on your mistakes. On those days it would be prudent to try and take the game deep as opposed to remain bull-headed with one approach and run the risk of throwing the match earlier in the process, as India did with Kuldeep and Chahal conceding 31 from 10 balls to end the game with 15 balls to spare.

But given their outstanding performances in the series and the weight of the conditions stacked against them, Dhawan insisted that it was just a bad day at the office. “Anybody can have a sh*t day,” he said.

“See, of course they are young guys, they have done very well… more than well for us. My support is always with them. Sometimes luck favours the opposition too and not just our side. It favoured Miller and he took it with both hands and he smacked lots of boundaries and the momentum changed. It’s not a thing that happens every time. Like our spinners don’t often bowl no-balls. Even if they get hit, they will learn lot of things. It is important to go through failures too to learn in your life. It’s just one loss man. We’ve already won three games so one more game and we’re through.”

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