Rohit Sharma became the 15th centurion in T20 internationals and India’s second after Suresh Raina but he was overshadowed by JP Duminy, who is South Africa’s leading run-scorer and second overall in the format, as he scripted a stunning series-opening victory in Dharamsala. Duminy shared a 105-run fourth-wicket partnership with Farhaan Behardien to see South Africa chase down 200 for only the second time in T20Is after AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla set them up with a 77-run opening stand.
India would have thought their total was safe, albeit short of what they seemed headed for at 158 for 1 with five overs to go, after R Ashwin and debutant S Aravind removed de Villiers and Faf du Plessis in successive overs adding to South Africa’s reputation for middle-order meltdowns. But the temperament of Duminy and the tactical nous which resulted in Behardien promoted to No. 5 ahead of David Miller kept South Africa in the game and took them over the line.
That line would have seemed distant when Rohit and Virat Kohli were shredding the South African attack’s traditional strength – the short ball. The first one was delivered by Marchant de Lange and Rohit met it with an authoritative pull. Chris Morris and Kagiso Rabada supplied many more and Rohit relished each one of them.
Not even South Africa’s banker, Imran Tahir was spared. Kohli crossed 1000th T20I runs off him with a six over deep midwicket, to become the first Indian to reach the mark. Rohit also reached a milestone – a hundred in all formats – and saved it for de Lange, who had dropped him on 24 off his own bowling, when he cleared long-off to bring up the century off 62 balls.
The ball was changed after that over and it worked for South Africa’s seamers. Kohli and Rohit both mis-hit pulls and were caught near the boundary in Abbott’s next over to end their stand of 138 and put the brakes on India’s charge. South Africa kept India to just 41 runs in the final five overs to give themselves a chance with the bat.
Amla immediately showed their intent to make that chance count when he clipped the first ball of the reply to the fine-leg boundary. De Villiers was not to be outdone and sent the second ball he faced over his Royal Challengers Bangalore team-mate Aravind’s head.
India’s seamers did not fare much better than South Africa’s on a surface that was packed with runs and a outfield heavy with dew, and their attempts at varying lengths were unsuccessful. With what seemed like casualness, Amla and de Villiers racked up 67 runs in the Powerplay, finding the boundary off short and full balls alike.
Spin was cited as being the difference between the sides and Axar Patel almost showed why. He threatened to end the opening stand, when he induced a thick edge from Amla but MS Dhoni put down a tough chance. The breakthrough came in Ashwin’s over, but not by his doing, when Amla was run-out searching for a second run.
Ashwin enjoyed more success in his next over with a superb delivery to remove de Villiers, just after he had brought up a half-century with a four. De Villiers advanced on Ashwin and sent him to the deep midwicket boundary for his fifty off 31 balls but on the 32nd, Ashwin saw him coming. He held back the pace and had de Villiers in no-man’s land when the ball hit his back thigh and deflected onto the stumps.
South Africa needed 107 runs off 61 balls when Duminy arrived at the crease and his task was immediately made more difficult. Aravind got his first international wicket when he bowled du Plessis with a slower ball that slanted across the South African captain as he reached for it with rooted feet and India would have thought the game was over.
Duminy might have felt the same when Ashwin appealed for a stumping off him, off the fourth ball he faced, but replays showed Duminy was safe. In the next over, Axar had an lbw appeal against Duminy which looked close enough to be out but was not given. Duminy was determined to make the two chances count.
He swung hard at the next ball and sent it for six to restart South Africa’s chase and Behardien, prompted by the positivity, joined the party. The pair took 30 runs off three overs and then Duminy seized the advantage with a trio of sixes off Axar’s final over. He brought the required run rate down from 13.20 to 11 per over and with four overs left, gave South Africa reason to believe.
Bhuvneshwar bowled a boundary-less third over but conceded nine runs, before Duminy hit back to take six off the first ball of Mohit Sharma’s last over and ten off the first two balls of Bhuvneshar’s final one. Behardien provided the perfect foil and rotated strike confidently to put Duminy in command.
Unintentionally, India ended up leaving their newest player with the most to do. Aravind had to defend 10 runs off the last over and backed himself to bowl yorkers. He got the first two in the right area but missed the length on the third. Duminy pulled it over deep midwicket to level scores and with a single off the next ball, gave South Africa the series lead.