Once again, Virat Kohli made a mountain of runs. Once again, South Africa’s batsmen were undone by the wrist-spin of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal in the middle overs. And once again, India won handsomely.
It’s a template that has been almost set in stone during the One-Day International series between the two teams, and the end result on Wednesday (February 7) was that India won by 124 runs to take a 3-0 lead in the series. At best South Africa can only hope to draw the ODI series now while for India, one win will give them a historic first-ever bilateral success on South African soil.
An injury-hit South African side briefly showed more fight in the third ODI at Newlands, Cape Town, but in front of Kohli’s magnificence, it was never going to be enough. The Indian captain walked in after Kagiso Rabada had snared Rohit Sharma in an excellent first over. And once in, the South Africans couldn’t dislodge him no matter who tried. He ended with 160 not out off 159 balls, not always at his fluent best, but at his most determined. It was his 34th ODI hundred – in just 197 innings – and his 12th as captain, the most by an Indian skipper.
Kohli’s innings was the fulcrum around which India put up a sizeable 303 for 6 after being put in to bat, and with the wrist-spinners proving to be as mystifying to the South Africans as hieroglyphics, the home team was stopped at just 179 in 40 overs. Chahal (4 for 46) and Kuldeep (4 for 23) shared eight wickets between them this time, bowling nine overs each.
It was not quite a full house at Newlands, and they saw a not-quite-often seen aspect of Kohli’s batting. Of all his runs, only 60 came off boundaries, meaning he ran 100 of his runs. It was done in sapping heat and he still ended up with a strike-rate of slightly better than a run-a-ball, illustrating his fitness too. This was not the normal Kohli innings in terms of effortless dominance, but it was completely Kohli-like in having audacious shot-making and an inevitability about a big score once he was in for a while.
The only other contribution of note in the top order came from Shikhar Dhawan, who motored to 76 off 63 before falling to JP Duminy’s part-time offspin. Duminy would also go on to get Ajinkya Rahane to end with 2 for 60 in his full quota of ten overs.
Dhawan apart, no Indian batsman could negotiate the two-paced surface well and South Africa kept taking wickets regularly once Duminy broke a 140-run stand for the second wicket that came off just 133 balls. During the Dhawan-Kohli stand, India looked well on course for a total well above 300, but with all of Rahane, Hardik Pandya, MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav falling for less than 15, India’s momentum was halted. It needed Bhuvneshwar Kumar to come in at No.8 and stick around long enough for his captain to bat through the innings. Bhuvneshwar and Kohli put on 67 unbroken runs for the seventh wicket off 44 balls, with Kohli scoring 43 off those off 25 balls.
Rabada, who was once again South Africa’s best bowler on view, ended with 1 for 54, his final figures ruined by Kohli showing absolute mastery. The penultimate ball of the innings was rocketed over midwicket when it wasn’t even that short a delivery. The last ball went straight back past the bowler to crash into the fence even while Rabada had just completed his follow-through. It was a stunning end to a stunning innings.
The closest call Kohli had was when he was given out lbw in the third over. The Indian captain went for the review, which showed a spike when the ball had gone past the bat, with the bat not close to anything else. The ball itself would have barely clipped legstump, but having been given out on field, Kohli would have had to walk back for a duck if not for the spike.
That apart, he took some time to settle but with Dhawan looking in prime form, the run-rate motored along without any batsman taking anything close to a risk. Dhawan was out against the run of play after stepping out to Duminy for Markram to pull off a sharp catch at midwicket. Regular strikes thereafter meant South Africa prevented a big partnership from building, but the man they wanted most stood firm to eventually pull India over 300.
South Africa’s reply got off to a rocky start when Hashim Amla was trapped in front by Jasprit Bumrah in the second over, but Aiden Markram (32 off 42) and JP Duminy (51 off 67) put together a good stand of 78. It was to be South Africa’s best batting phase and predictably, it ended due to a spinner. Kuldeep beat Markram all ends up with a wrong ‘un and Dhoni had the bails off in a flash. From then on, it was a familiar downward spiral for South Africa. They went from 79 for 1 to losing nine wickets for the addition of 100 runs in 23.4 overs.
Once again, no batsman seemed to pick either of the wrist-spinners. They were beaten by the turn, beaten by flight, beaten in the mind. With the asking rate mounting but no way to score runs, they predictably got themselves out as Kuldeep and Chahal swelled their series’ tally to 21 wickets in just three matches.
When Kohli took India over 300, it seemed as if they had got at least 50 above par. It turned out to be more than double that. If South Africa don’t find answers to stopping Kohli’s runs or dealing with Kuldeep and Chahal’s turn, they will lose the series at the first available opportunity.