Anyone looking for evidence that One-day cricket will remain relevant and can match the T20 version in edge-of-the-seat entertainment should have been at the Green Park Stadium in Kanpur on Sunday or stayed glued to the television set.
Watching two swashbuckling hundreds by two of the game’s cleanest hitters — AB de Villiers and Rohit Sharma — was worth every penny invested in buying tickets for this game and braving the sun on a hot day. But watching a young pacer, tipped to have a bright future, hold his nerve and dismiss the best finisher in the game, in the last over to turn the tide of the match, should rank even more special than the strokes that flew off the bats on a ground on which the boundaries were pulled in.
The fast bowler on this occasion was Kagiso Rabada and the finisher MS Dhoni.
With Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel having finished their quota, SA skipper AB de Villiers went with Rabada to defend 11 runs in the final over. With Dhoni on strike, De Villiers briefed his young seamer to be accurate as the fine leg fielder was up.
But at the same time he also asked Rabada to hit the deck hard, and make life tough for Dhoni.
After four runs were conceded in three balls, Rabada bent his back hard and generated steep bounce, putting a charging Dhoni in an awkward position. The India skipper ended scooping up the ball and Rabada tasted first blood. Stuart Binny too couldn’t handle Rabada’s pace and was dismissed in similar fashion. The Kanpur crowd fell silent but Rabada was ecstatic as India fell short by 5 runs.
Earlier de Villiers stroked his way to a match-winning unbeaten 104, and Rohit Sharma dominated right through his innings to make 150. But it was Umesh Yadav’s final over that gave South Africa the much needed edge. South Africa were 282 in the 49th over when Yadav gave away 21. At the same stage of the innings, India were exactly 11 runs ahead at that juncture in comparison but Rabada’s lethal pace and accuracy ensured South Africa continued their winning run.
For Rabada, it wasn’t easy as he was under immense pressure after having sprayed the ball all the day.
While Rabada’s part was just the climax to a thrilling story, it was de Villiers who had written the script. After the departure of Hashim Amla, de Villiers kept going and scored runs with the air of a man who knows what he is doing.
At the end of 40th over, SA were 194/3 and going at less than five an over. Nobody could have imagined at that point that SA would end up getting past 300, especially on a track which was getting slower and slower. The poise with which de Villiers paced his innings was commendable. He reached his fifty without any danger, though he had hit two sixes.
Once he got settled and was ready to take on the bowling, he showed his intelligent side and used the crease to milk runs. He, alongside, Farhaan Behardien destroyed the Indian pacers and got 65 in the last five overs. The best part of his batting was the way he guided Behardien, who had come to bat in the 45th over. De Villiers just ensured that the new batsman was free of any pressure and kept getting runs. In the process, Behardien got so confident that he too followed in his skipper’s footsteps.
Rohit stands tall
If this was one brilliant knock of the day, the other was of Indian opener Rohit Sharma. In comparison, Sharma easily beat De Villiers on each front — be it be style, range of shots or how he had paced his innings. However, having reached 150, Sharma failed to finish the game. De Villiers, batting at No.4, had stayed in the middle till the last ball and tonked Yadav for a six to get to his hundred.
Rohit gave away his wicket at a juncture where India was in control and one good over could have seen India take the match. But the opener returned a silly catch back to Imran Tahir and the SA leggie scalped Suresh Raina four balls later. With Rohit at the crease alongside Dhoni could have been easily possible but with new batsmen in, SA got roared back into the game.
Rohit had entertained the crowd with his flamboyant drives, stared back in the eyes of the seamers by pulling and played the spinners with ease.
However, when Ajinkya Rahane departed — the batsman with whom Rohit shared a 139-run partnership — the strike rate dipped. Virat Kohli too departed cheaply and without able to push the strike-rate up. It was left to Dhoni and Rohit to take India home. Rohit and Raina departed in the same Tahir over. And just when it seemed that Dhoni had set it up nicely and was only a big shot away from taking his team home, the young fast bowler from South Africa got the better of the proven finisher.