He was hobbling, he was limping, he was crumpling to the floor, and he was also clutching his leg in excruciating agony. But it was the Indian bowlers who were feeling the pain. Faf du Plessis was just hitting sixes. And he was hitting them far enough to make sure he had enough time to be treated by the physio as the ball was retrieved.
It was a bizarre period of play. Beset by a severe bout of cramps, du Plessis was struggling to keep his feet grounded.
But still, somehow, he was managing to either jump out of his crease or stretch his right hamstring enough to go down on the left knee to launch Axar Patel into the stands, thrice in the same over-the 43rd of the South African innings. Even if it meant having to deal with grave physical distress after each shot. Then in the next over, du Plessis slapped a full-toss from Bhuvneshwar Kumar to the mid-wicket fence, with one hand left on the bat, and one fit leg to stand on. By then, the Indian spirits had been totally dismembered. They would remain like that for the rest of the match as South Africa amassed 438/4, the highest total on Indian soil, before recording a grotesque 219-run win over the hosts to clinch the series 3-2 at the Wankhede. Ajinkya Rahane would provide some relief for them with a breezy 87 but there was no way he or anyone else was going to get India anywhere close to their inconceivable target with Kagiso Rabada starring with the ball with figures of 4/41. The exciting finale that we were expected to witness never really came to the fore, and the Proteas ended up showing up a large divide between the two teams.
But The South African score had gone past 350, and AB de Villiers was still at the crease. Du Plessis would face just one more delivery before eventually ambling off for a 115-ball 133. So badly cramped was du Plessis that it took him close to four minutes to climb up the stairs to the dressing-room at the Wankhede Stadium. In that time, de Villiers had already smashed two more deliveries into the stands. There was to be no breathing space for MS Dhoni’s hapless bowlers.
A brutal onslaught was turning into a mockery. A one-sided contest had become a farce.
A cerebral massacre
The mauling would eventually end up as a cerebral massacre. And understandably there were no survivors, as the Indian bowlers, to the man, lay in a heap of debilitated egos. At one point you stopped keeping count of the sixes, and the numbers just kept getting staggering with 144 runs being scored in the last 10 overs, Quinton de Kock and de Villiers to go with du Plessis’ daredevil knock.
If de Kock’s was an assault, and de Villiers’ a blitzkrieg, du Plessis’ knock was the unheralded foundation stone that allowed the other two to continue in their merciless fashion. You could hardly make out when he started getting close to a century, such was the brutality being meted from the other end.
This was a crucial series for de Kock, having regained his place in the side after a brief spell out of the team. He had showed why South Africans across the board rate him so highly, with a century at Rajkot. But at Wankhede he was simply unstoppable. By the fourth over of the innings, he had slashed three boundaries, and the Indian seamers had realized that there was little help on offer off the Wankhede wicket. So they started pitching it short. De Kock wasn’t complaining as he lashed into them, cutting, pulling and slashing them for fours. And on the odd occasion they did pitch it up, he was waiting to flick them away for further damage.
As expected Dhoni turned to spin early. But unlike previously in the series, they weren’t going to be his saviours in Mumbai. If anything, de Kock and du Plessis only picked up the scoring against the slow men. The boundaries just kept coming, though the Indians didn’t help their cause with a number of dropped catches. Now, even the spinners were bowling it too short, as South Africa continued on with their four-fest. By the time de Kock departed the scene for a 87-ball 109, that included 17 fours, he had pretty much set the scene up for de Villiers to take over.
The scoring rate hardly dipped under 7 after the initial attack as an unexpected cloud-cover came over the Wankhede. The Indians kept looking longingly at the skies, almost begging, for the unseasonal rain to arrive, but all they saw was the little white ball flying into the stands.
It’s not too difficult to fathom why du Plessis doesn’t quite induce the same kind of apprehension in his opponents like de Kock or de Villiers. His is a more cumbersome style of building innings, where he prefers to rotate the strike around before aiming for the home-runs.
But such was the ferocity with which de Villiers started that at one point there were some who believed that the skipper might well overtake du Plessis en route to three-figures. Dhoni turned to Kumar and Mohit Sharma more in desperation, but they kept pitching it short, and de Villiers kept flat-batting them over the on-side fence, almost out of habit.
It was du Plessis who got there first, before he began clearing the boundaries himself. Then de Villiers took charge, and as is the case when that happens, the Indian bowlers, if they weren’t helpless already, simply stood back and watched him entertain, as a generally partisan Mumbai crowd began cheering for the rival captain.
Rahane makes a point
Once India lost Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli within the first eight overs, it was just a question of how long their innings could last. If nothing, Rahane at least showed off that he too could bring out the heavy artillery in the ODI format, cementing his place in the 50-over format further. At the 25-over mark, India were actually ahead of South Africa’s score at that stage. That pretty much was the only high-point for the home team on a forgettable Sunday. As they ploughed along, with Rabada constantly thundering into their citadel, the crowd started flashing their mobile-phone lights, like the crowd does with cigarette-lighters to accompany a melancholic rendition during a rock-show. It was pretty symbolic of what they thought of India’s performance. To make matters worse, Dale Steyn only seemed to be bowling quicker towards the end of the innings, not a happy proposition for the Indian batsmen as they look forward to a month-and-a-half of facing them in the Tests.
At the end of the day where Indian cricket witnessed one of an embarrassing low in the 50-over format, Dhoni in his inimitable style would admit that the performance of the bowlers was too bad to even rate it. You couldn’t agree more.