Until Tuesday (February 13), it could be said that Indian teams had never won a bilateral series in South Africa. Not anymore. India reasserted their dominance in the One-Day International series, surging to a 73-run win in Port Elizabeth that gave them a 4-1 lead in the series with only one match remaining.
In 1992-93, India lost 5-2. In 2006-07 it was 4-0, in 2010-11 they lost 3-2, and the margin in 2013-14 was 2-0. No longer will that albatross hang around India’s neck. The win was setup by a superb Rohit Sharma century, and a relentlessly disciplined and incisive bowling effort. Rohit’s 115 (off 126 balls) carried India to 274 for 7, a total they looked likely to exceed before Lungi Ngidi burst through with four wickets in the last eight overs, including Rohit’s.
But India’s bowlers, who had the rougher end of the conditions in the previous ODI in Johannesburg and weren’t as disciplined either, roared back to keep South Africa to just 201 all out in 42.2 overs, for a famous win. Hardik Pandya had possibly his best bowling day in coloured clothing, returning 2 for 30 in nine overs which included the wicket of AB de Villiers, and running out Hashim Amla (71 off 92) with a direct hit. Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, who came in for rough treatment in the last ODI, returned to their wicket-taking ways, with Kuldeep taking 4 for 57 and Chahal returning 2 for 43.
On the tour so far, Rohit had tallied 118 runs in eight innings across two Tests and four ODIs. On Tuesday, he almost doubled that at St. George’s Park. Rohit’s innings was not without incident. He was involved in mix-ups that ran out both Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, and survived a straightforward dropped chance when on 96, Tabraiz Shamsi shelling the ball at third man after Rohit had upper cut Kagiso Rabada. The memes about a Rohit double-hundred on the way had already made the rounds when Kohli was run out, but a double-wicket maiden by Ngidi in the 43rd over put the brakes on India, with Rohit edging an attempted cut behind and Pandya out first ball, also caught behind off the bottom of the bat. Ngidi would later get MS Dhoni and Shreyas Iyer too. India had started the over on 236 for 3, but the last eight overs brought a measly 38 runs for four wickets as Ngidi reaped the benefits of banging the ball down hard on a length, cramping batsman after batsman for room and surprising them with lift.
While India’s middle order continued to struggle, the top order came good, as has been the case through the series. After a cautious start, Shikhar Dhawan began peppering the fence. Rohit, out six times in eight innings to Kagiso Rabada before this innings, got going by stepping out and sending the ball sailing over long-on, a stunning shot against the pace Rabada was generating. The bowler would hit 150 kph during the match, and had his revenge in his next over. Dhawan, who had hit three consecutive fours off Morne Morkel to get India rocketing along, fell to the short-ball trap, hooking straight to fine leg and leaving the team 48 for 1 in 7.2 overs.
Kohli and Rohit ensured India had yet another fruitful second-wicket association, putting on 105 in 109 balls, though Kohli never kicked into dominant gear, as only two fours in his 54-ball 36 showed. When he was on 28, there was a tense moment as Heinrich Klaasen whipped the bails off, as Shamsi – playing this game in place of an injured Chris Morris – drew Kohli forward in the 23rd over. Numerous replays could not determine conclusively whether Kohli had half a millimetre behind the line or not, and eventually the batsman was given not out. It didn’t cost South Africa much as Kohli was run out soon after, with the third-wicket stand also ending in similar fashion when Rahane was run-out
Rohit, however, got to his first ever century in South Africa. His previous highest ODI score was just 23, while his highest score in the country was the 47 he got in the second innings of the Centurion Test. He tucked Shamsi to fine-leg for a couple of runs at the end of the 36th over to bring up the landmark. Ngidi wrecked plans of a late assault, but India had enough on the board to feel confident.
The match seemed in balance when Amla and Aiden Markram were putting on 52 runs for the opening wicket in just 9.4 overs, but Jasprit Bumrah made the breakthrough, getting the South African captain to toe-end a ball to mid-on. The key moment came when de Villiers slashed hard at a back-of-length ball in the channel from Pandya and only edged it behind. At 65 for 3 in the 13th over with their main batsman gone, South Africa’s task looked steep. David Miller, back in form after his Pink ODI exploits, was much more confident against the wrist-pin duo of Kuldeep and Chahal, but was eventually bowled by Chahal to end a 62-run stand.
Klaasen, the other hero from the previous ODI, fought gamely with a 42-ball 39 but he was left with too much to do while running out of partners. He was the eighth wicket to fall, stumped off Kuldeep and by then the match was heading only one way.
Chahal, who sustained a stinging blow to his left hand while trying to stop a Miller drive off his own bowling, signalled victory by trapping Morkel in front to spark animated celebrations in the Indian camp, with history made.