Lightning struck the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, as the flashes in the sky were matched by those on the ground. In the end, history was preserved as South Africa not only kept the series alive, but also their record in Pink ODI matches, surging to a five-wicket win via the DLS method, taking the series scoreline to 3-1.
All hope seemed lost when AB de Villiers fell for an 18-ball 26, pulling Hardik Pandya straight to Rohit Sharma at fine-leg to leave the home side 102 for 4 in 16.5 overs, chasing a DLS revised target of 202 in 28 overs. With exactly 100 needed in 67 balls and the pair of David Miller and Heinrich Klaasen at the crease, the match was in India’s grasp. Miller (39 off 28) and Klaasen (43 not out off 27) proceeded to snatch it back with an array of stunning shots, launching an assault that India’s bowlers hadn’t encountered so far in the series. Victory was achieved in just 25.3 overs.
The feared wrist-spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal were torn apart, with a three-over period in the middle going for 39 runs as South Africa came storming back from the dead. It could have been very different had Miller not been granted reprieves off Chahal. When he was on six, he pulled the legspinner to midwicket where Shreyas Iyer – playing in place of the injured Kedar Jadhav – shelled the chance. Two balls later, Chahal foxed Miller completely to have him bowled, only for replays to reveal that he had overstepped. Miller could have been out for 7 off 8 balls, instead he went on to smash his next 20 deliveries for 32 runs. Chahal finally got his man, trapped in front, but by then the equation had come down to 28 needed off 26 balls for South Africa, with the Miller-Klaasen stand yielding a game-changing 72 runs in just 6.5 overs.
Klaasen stayed till the end, treating India’s feared bowling attack with utter disdain till the last. Andile Phehlukwayo, sent in at No.7 ahead of Chris Morris, administered the finishing rites with a quickfire 23 off five balls, three of which went over the ropes, including one with the scores level. The unbroken sixth-wicket stand added 33 in 11 balls leaving an already stunned India shell-shocked.
While the spinners were being smacked all over the park, with Kuldeep taking 2 for 51 in his full quota of six overs, and Chahal returning 1 for 68 in 5.3 overs, in a strange bit of captaincy, Virat Kohli left three of his pacers’ overs unused, with Jasprit Bumrah having 1 for 21 in five overs and Bhuvneshwar Kumar giving up 27 runs in four overs.
South Africa’s remarkable chase also put Shikhar Dhawan’s 105-ball 109 to the shade. His knock was the centrepiece of India’s 289 for 7, with Kohli dismissed below 100 for the first time in the ODI series but still making 75 off 83. India’s innings included a 52-minute stoppage for inclement weather, with the team 200 for 2 in 34.2 overs. The break worked to South Africa’s advantage as India could make only 89 for 5 in the remaining 15.4 overs, with the home side bowlers showing zip and liveliness in keeping an untested middle order extremely quiet. None of Ajinkya Rahane, Iyer, MS Dhoni or Pandya could score at even a run-a-ball, as India’s finish fizzled after two thirds of the innings had sizzled.
Dhawan got to his landmark with a straight drive off Morris just an over before play was stopped. Dhawan had looked in pristine touch all series long, and finally got the century that seemed to be there for the taking each time he batted, his 13th in ODIs. This particular innings though, had equal dollops of luck as well as sparkling strokeplay, with a number of deliveries that caught both the inside and outside edges of his bat but evaded stumps and ‘keeper each time. Dhawan perhaps deserved that luck, becoming the first Indian to hit triple figures in his 100th ODI. While he was there, India looked set to get well in excess of 300, but the break in play and South Africa’s bowlers getting a crack at India’s under-cooked middle-order meant the team ended well short, which eventually made the difference.
An over after the break, Morne Morkel snapped up Dhawan while in the next Rahane too fell. The middle order couldn’t rotate strike or unfurl the big hits, and the Kohli-Dhawan stand of 158 seemed to belong in another match. They had got together early after yet another Rohit failure, falling to Kagiso Rabada once again, with the bowler putting in a well-timed dive to pluck the ball that Rohit had completely mistimed.
As has tended to be the case throughout the series, India’s best phase came when Dhawan and Kohli batted. Kohli’s wicket though, was the result of some good, pressure-building bowling. South Africa had chosen to go without a specialist spinner on a track that had bounce and pace, but that meant JP Duminy had to bowl a few overs. Duminy did his job splendidly. India had motored to 166 for 1 in 27 overs, when the combination of Ngidi and Duminy applied the brakes on the scoring. The next four overs brought only 12 runs, and Aiden Markram then brought back Morris. With his first ball, the tall pacer got one to bounce a bit more and Kohli’s intended slap into the covers only found Miller as the Bullring noise level reached a crescendo.
Dhawan though, continued to flick the runs away and Rahane also seemed to be settling when the lightning forced the umpires to call for the covers. On resumption, the bowlers hit their groove much quicker than the batsmen, and with both Dhawan and Rahane falling soon, India had to contend with a fired up bowling unit against their middle order. Markram pulled off the catch of the tour, plucking Pandya’s intended drive from the air, but also ensured while falling over backwards that the ball stayed nestled in his hand.
India might have still thought they had enough when South Africa began their chase, but the second stoppage occurred just as Bumrah got Markram lbw to leave South Africa 43 for 1 in 7.2 overs.
On resumption, the target had reduced, but with the wickets of Hashim Amla – brilliantly caught by Bhuvneshwar on the long-off boundary – Duminy and de Villiers, India seemed to be on top.
That was until Miller and Klaasen decided to show them otherwise.