Last night at the MA Chidambaram Stadium we witnessed two brilliant innings from two world class players. Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers put on an exhibition of grit, determination and fabulous strokeplay to enthrall the Chepauk crowd.
As South Africa neared defeat, a TV poll asked which innings was the better one. To everyone’s amazement, even the commentators’, 52 percent voted for De Villiers. That’s how good his innings was.
The problem for De Villiers though was that he fought a lone battle while Kohli had Ajinkya Rahane and Suresh Raina to back him up. That ended up being the difference between the two sides.
India’s biggest problem in this series has been losing wickets in clusters. In the second and third ODIs, India failed to stitch together even a single 100-run stand. So when Kohli walked out to the middle at 28 for 1 in the fifth over and then three overs later Shikhar Dhawan departed, the fears of yet another batting failure started to resurface.
Kohli has been going through a tough time with the bat and didn’t look at his best in the last game even though he made 77. But on Thursday he looked determined right from the start and along with Rahane (45 off 53), steadied the ship and put on a crucial partnership of 104 from 18.2 overs.
The pair scored at a brisk pace – 5.67 runs per over. That gave Indian innings stability as well as sustained momentum and they did it without taking undue risks. The hallmark of their partnership was the running between the wickets. They ran 55 singles and five twos, which meant 62.5 percent of their partnership runs were scored in singles and twos.
However, Rahane got out just past the halfway mark of the innings and while Kohli had settled into good rhythm, India needed another partnership. To everyone’s surprise, Suresh Raina walked in at No. 5. He was under tremendous pressure to deliver having scored 0, 0, and 3 this series and gone seven innings without a fifty.
The problem with Raina was he seemed to be in a rush and in process perished early. But on Thursday, he started off patiently. His first boundary came off his 18th delivery. But then he and Kohli accelerated. By the time Raina was out for53 (from 52 balls), the pair had added 127 runs from 18.4 overs at a run-rate of 6.80.
In reply, South Africa lost Hashim Amla and the dangerous looking Quinton de Kock inside 12 overs. AB de Villiers arrived at the crease at 67 for 2. The ball was turning square, there was extra bounce. In the next six overs De Villiers saw Faf du Plessis and David Miller depart. South Africa were already playing one fewer batsman and De Villiers needed Farhaan Behardien to stick around if they were to have any hope of winning the game.
It was not to be. Behardien fell in the 32nd over for 22. With 156 still needed from 18 overs, De Villiers launched his assault but wickets kept falling at the other end. When De Villiers walked off to a standing ovation having scored 112 from 107 balls, it was all but over for South Africa.
De Villiers was involved in five partnerships but the highest was just 56 – with Behardien. There were a total of 166 runs scored in those partnerships out of which 112 were scored by De Villiers (67.46 percent). In contrast, Kohli was involved in four partnerships for a total of 263 runs out of which his contribution was 138 (52.47 percent).
After the match, when Sunil Gavaskar was asked about Kohli’s innings, he was quick to point out the importance of Rahane and Raina’s contributions first. “They gave Kohli the confidence that there is someone who will stick around. Raina stuck around and also scored at a quicker rate. While we felicitate Kohli, we shouldn’t forget Raina and Rahane.”
This is the batting performance from India that fans at home have grown used to in recent years and it arrived just in time to force a series decider in Mumbai on Sunday.