The most ODIs India had won in a bilateral series against South Africa was two. In both, India went on to lose the series – 3-2 and 5-2. Coming into the fifth ODI at Port Elizabeth, India had already managed to take that number to three but a win is what they were after to avoid any drama later. The dramatics didn’t subside but India did ensure that they took that number of wins in the series to four and clinch their first ever bilateral series win in South Africa. A 73 run win, at a venue where India had never won, and convincing lead in the top ODI rank only made things much, much sweeter. In the contest itself, some things changed while some remained the same.
As Kohli-led team created history of becoming the first Indian side to win a series in South Africa – across formats – something that Mohammed Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid or MS Dhoni – could not accomplish, he beamed at the post-match presentation. “Only one team had the pressure of losing this series and we knew that. Its history and the guys have worked hard for it. Ever since the third Test in Johannesburg, it’s been a good time for us. It’s been a collective effort to create history,” Kohli said after the match.
“When three guys at the top are being consistent, the guys who get an opportunity every now and then might not click. After this series is wrapped up we’ll sit down and think about where to improve. For now, 4-1 feels great. We want to win 5-1 for sure, but yeah, there might a scenario for a few more guys to get a chance next match. But the ultimate priority is to win and we’ll do anything we can to win,” the skipper added.
Prior to the fifth ODI, Rohit Sharma had been under a barren run with just 126 runs in South Africa. On Tuesday he changed all that with 115 runs from 126 balls. But elsewhere, most things remained the same. Hardik Pandya faltered with the bat but came roaring back with crucial wickets and his bullet throws that proved to be the difference maker. But above all, wrist spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav once again tipped the game in India’s favour with six wickets between them.
At one stage, Amla had stitched crucial partnerships with Aiden Markram and then David Miller before taking the responsibility on to himself to keep South Africa going. But Pandya, who had been dismissed for a golden duck, added to his exploits of being a sublime fielder with a superb throw from mid-off that rattled the stumps at non-striker’s end. With a tough decision to make, the third umpire flashed OUT on the gigantic screen to create a hush inside the stadium and extinguish South Africa’s hopes.
Even the likes of Andile Phehlukwayo and Heinrich Klaasen couldn’t steer the side home this time with the asking rate climbing and the slow surface at Port Elizabeth becoming hard to read especially with Kuldeep and Chahal on the prowl. After a less than successful effort against Amla, the spinners got the job done to wipe out the lower middle order and the contest.
Earlier during India’s inning, despite Rohit’s 115, the visitors couldn’t take the score to 300 or 300-plus with the middle order failing to pick up the pieces. Rohit more than made up with a fluent knock which saw its own action. It was riddled with fine shots, edged boundaries and more frustratingly for the dressing room – run outs of Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane. He earned himself some luck too when given a chance to bat on by Tabraiz Shamsi after being dropped at third man when on 96 runs.
India didn’t get the pace required to set up a large total as wickets fell after another and the now World No 1 side scoring just 55 runs in the last 10 overs.
Once again, MS Dhoni’s inability to push the tempo in the last five overs was exposed as he could only muster 13 runs from 17 balls before being sent back to the pavillion as Lungi Ngidi’s four-for put the brakes on India’s run. Bhuvneshwar Kumar added some crucial runs – 19 off 20 balls – to take India past the 270-run mark.