India had a first-ever bilateral series win against South Africa in South Africa in their grasp, only for it to be snatched away – for now at least. An inspired chase in a shortened match meant South Africa kept their spotless record on Pink Day intact, while also pulling the scoreline to 3-1 and keeping the six-match One-Day International series alive.
Two breaks in play hurt India. The first, with the team 200 for 2 in 34.2 overs and Shikhar Dhawan past a century, meant that when play resumed the batsmen had to find their rhythm again, a futile effort as it turned out. Then with Jasprit Bumrah having trapped Aiden Markram lbw and South Africa 43 for 1 in 7.2 overs, the players went off again. The first interruption hadn’t caused any loss of overs, but the second one was bound to. The rain also bucketed down meaning the outfield became wet, a serious hindrance to India’s prime bowling weapons all series long: the wrist-spin of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav.
India had made 289 for 7 and South Africa’s revised target was 202 in 28 overs. But with Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar already having bowled four overs each (Bumrah was into his fourth), it meant a rejigging of plans for Virat Kohli with no bowler allowed more than six overs. While these factors were out of India’s control, what made it a bit strange was that Kohli chose to stick with his spinners all through, even though Heinrich Klaasen and David Miller were going hell for leather against them. The 21st over, bowled by Kuldeep, went for 16 runs. Chahal was taken for 15 in the next, which made Kohli bring Bumrah back for one over. It was back to Chahal after that and he gave up nine runs. With 26 required off 24, and three overs from the pacers to come, Kohli went to Kuldeep again. The result was a 17-run over that all but settled the issue. Kohli stuck to Chahal for the next over, and the first three balls promptly disappeared for 14 runs.
Dhawan, who saw his 109 go in vain, said that the wet outfield played a significant part in not letting the spinners grip the ball. “Of course it makes a difference when the ball gets wet,” offered Dhawan. “Spinners cannot turn it that much and yeah that made a difference for us. Of course the South African guys played very well too.
“That time captain would have thought that they were taking chances against the spinners,” he went on, explaining the rationale behind persisting with the spinners. “We needed wickets. Because the wicket was such and the ground was wet, so by stopping runs we couldn’t have won. Wickets were very important. So the captain thought the spinners could take the wickets. Sometimes you take a risk, it pays off. Sometimes, it doesn’t pay off. It’s normal.”
Kuldeep bowled his full quota, while Chahal was into his sixth. Their combined figures of 11.3-0-119-3 were in stark contrast to Bumrah’s 5-0-21-1 and even Bhuvneshwar’s 4-0-27-0. The very reasonable explanation that the wet outfield made it tougher for spinners to grip – and therefore spin and control the ball – was at odds, however, with persisting with both when two other options were available. Even if Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar were being held back for the last few overs, Bhuvneshwar would have bowled only five. In any case, when the match is hurtling at pace, there is always the danger that you leave your best bowlers on the day unused if you keep them for too late – which is what happened to India.
Klaasen confessed to being very surprised that India persisted with the spinners and didn’t call on Bumrah or Bhuvneshwar. “Definitely, I was very surprised. 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.”
The wrist-spin duo have of course, wrought magic in the previous three ODIs and there’s no reason to believe one bad day spells doom, especially given a full 50 overs and a ball that is not wet – with batsmen not locked into T20 mode and having a go at everything. Moreover, Chahal had Miller dropped on 6, and then bowled on 7 in the same over – only for replays to show that he had overstepped.
Dhawan reiterated that this was not an everyday occurrence.
“See of course they are young guys, they have done very well, more than well for us,” held Dhawan. “Anyone can have a sh*t day, you know? These two spinners have won three games for us. My support is always with them. Anyone can have a bad day. 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.”