“If someone had to give us 2-0, we would have taken it.” These were the honest words of JP Duminy as he picked up his Man of the Series award last night. Indeed, most South Africans would have gleefully accepted a 2-0 series victory, especially as it began with a Rohit Sharma blitz that threatened to derail their tour just as it got started.
As Sharma and Virat Kohli amassed a massive 138-run partnership on Friday, it looked as though India had got off to a spectacular start. Despite only accumulating 41 runs in the last five overs and losing wickets at regular intervals, the adoring Dharamsala public would be forgiven for thinking that 200 might be a total quite far out of South Africa’s reach. Given that they had only chased 200 successfully on one previous occasion, Indian supporters would have been revelling at the thought of their team going 1-0 up in the series. Sure, South Africa had massive superstars at their disposal, but India would back themselves to defend 200, especially on home soil.
The hopeful optimism of the Indians had to have dissipated somewhat when AB De Villiers and Hashim Amla got off to a flier. Racing to 77 runs in 7.3 overs with De Villiers relishing his new role as an opening T20 batsman, it looked at this point as if South Africa would canter to victory. Surprises were in store, however, when in a matter of three overs, South Africa lost three lynchpins of their batting line-up with their openers and then their captain, Faf Du Plessis falling in quick succession. South African supporters were understandably sceptical of JP Duminy’s and Farhaan Behardien’s ability to take them home. However, they did just that in brilliant fashion.
While Duminy’s three consecutive sixes off Axar Patel set the win in motion, Behardien’s supporting role should not be underestimated. Had he not played his role to perfection, South Africa were only a batsman away from their bowlers being exposed. Duminy’s sheer brilliance, however, took them over the line and his 68 from 34 balls was a game-changing contribution. A seven wicket victory was the ultimate result and having mustered such an enthralling triumph, South Africa went into the Cuttack match full of renewed confidence.
With South Africa well poised at 1-0 in the series, it was expected that the Cuttack game would be another thriller. While South Africa displayed a batting masterclass in Dharamsala, Cuttack was the scene of a flawless bowling and fielding display — one that India simply had no answer for. From the exceptional run outs by Morris and Miller to some disciplined, accurate bowling by Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir and Man of the Match Albie Morkel, South Africa were largely on top for the entirety of the match. The fact that India only managed to put up a paltry 92 runs with their highest score being 22, was due to, as Faf admitted, South Africa’s best ever bowling performance in this format.
After having successfully chased down 200 in the first T20, the 92 seemed a mere formality. Despite South Africa being three wickets down relatively early, the result was never in doubt. This seemed to be of greatest annoyance to the Cuttack crowd who vented their frustration by throwing bottles on the field, clearly angered by their team’s disappointing showing.
Their abject behaviour resulted in delays over an hour and while their irritation at their team’s performance was understandable, nothing justifies their unruly conduct. While the match was prolonged due to a few troublemakers, the result was, as expected, a comprehensive six wicket South African win with Duminy once again playing a crucial role in completing the chase.
With an unassailable 2-0 lead going into Kolkata, South Africa understandably had hopes of completing a whitewash; hopes that were dashed by a wet outfield ruling out play. Comprehensively thrashing India in their backyard, however, is not an accomplishment to be scoffed at and South Africa will hope they can maintain this form going into the ODI series. Having struck the first blow and already adding a trophy to their suitcase, South Africa will hope the rest of their travels continue in the same positive vein.