The decider at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai between India and South Africa on Sunday was expected to be a close contest looking at how the previous matches had unveiled. But, the Proteas proved on Sunday why they are the most dangerous one-day side in world cricket at present, both home and away, that is of course when they are not playing in the World Cup. Although it must be admitted that they got the better conditions to bat on, the fact that the Proteas put up such an exhilarating exhibition of batting should not be taken away from them. It was one of the most cruel assaults on bowlers in the last decade.
While an ODI match typically lasts close to hundred overs, this one was over at the halfway stage, perhaps even before. In a big game, the initial few overs always set the tone of things to follow for the day. Zaheer Khan's wayward first over of the 2003 World Cup final is always put forward as an example of how not to start a big game. The Indian bowlers put up a similarly poor show at Wankhede, and in no time, Quinton de Kock had raced away, with a flurry of boundaries coming his way. The Indian bowlers just did not display any kind of control on a pitch where the same was paramount.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar may have been picking up wickets in the series, but he is clearly having issues with his line and length, and the same came to the fore at Mumbai as well. The short-pitched stuff was never going to work against the high-calibre batsmen South Africa had at their disposal. Mohit Sharma also tried similar tactics, but failed on expected lines. India clearly missed someone of the pace of Mohammed Shami in the series. While the spinners had pulled things back for India earlier in the series, on this occasion, even they were disappointing. Harbhajan Singh began well but could not carry on the momentum. And the visitors were completely on top by the time Axar Patel and Amit Mishra came in.
When you have three centurions in an innings, it is difficult to single out which one of them was most significant. But, in case of the Wankhede game, that credit must go to de Kock. As mentioned earlier, the start in a big game is extremely crucial. Both sides would have been nervous in the initial few overs, but the way de Kock batted in the first ten overs, any momentum India had carried from Chennai was completely snatched away. While no praise can be too high for de Kock, who fought off some terrible form in recent times, credit also must be given to Faf du Plessis and skipper AB de Villiers, who completely shut India out of the game.
As mentioned earlier, the match was all but over at the halfway stage. The Indian bowlers had lost it for India as much as the South African batsmen had won it. But, India could still have competed had they gotten off to a flier. They needed Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli to sizzle in tandem to have the slightest chance of chasing down the improbable target. But, the duo succumbed to the asking rate as the South African pacers, unlike India, kept things tight. Ajinkya Rahane displayed his unfairly questioned abilities with a blitzkrieg of an innings. But, South Africa went on to win by a massive margin, proving how wide a gulf exists between the teams.
-- By A Cricket Analyst