Albie Morkel celebrated a return to the South African side in his 50th T20I, after an absence of 18 months with a career-best haul of 3 for 12 and a starring role in a series win. South Africa sealed the series with a game to spare with one of their most commanding performances in this format.
They dismissed India for their second-lowest T20 total, much to the chagrin of the Cuttack crowd, who interrupted play twice during South Africa’s chase by throwing bottles onto the outfield, and they did it on a surface snaked with cracks.
The Cuttack pitch was not what would be a considered a South African seamer’s playground. It had the appearance of a frozen-over surface struck by something sharp, causing rivers of fissures, and Faf du Plessis chose to make first use of it because of high humidity which he thought would bring dew later on. The expected dampness did not arrive and neither did India’s batsmen. They succumbed to several soft dismissals and showed none of the temperament required to score runs on the surface and South Africa took full advantage. That India’s top-scorers managed just 22 each and the rest of the line-up could only collectively muster 37 speaks about the lack of application by the Indian batsmen.
Unsure of conditions, South Africa tried something different when Imran Tahir opened the bowling with Kyle Abbott but it was only when Kagiso Rabada took over that South Africa announced themselves. Rabada banged the ball in hard, but not short, to see if he could extract any bounce and cause the batsmen any discomfort. He managed both and showed the rest of the pack attack what length to employ. South Africa had to shift out of their comfort zone, forget the short ball and pitch it up and they did. Chris Morris had Shikhar Dhawan trapped lbw by a full, straight ball as he tried to whip it away.
Dhawan’s early departure would not have been a cause for too much concern but Virat Kohli’s run-out two balls later would have. Morris was involved again, as he collected the ball at deep midwicket, and sent it in before Kohli was able to complete the second run, which Rohit Sharma seemed to want.
Rohit was made to realise early that this innings would demand more of him than the one he played on Friday in Dharamsala. He was tested by bounce from Rabada, and pace from Morris and with only 13 runs coming from the 20 balls after Kohli’s dismissal, his patience ran out. Rohit tried to steal a single sending the ball to David Miller at point but he picked the wrong arm. He was also run-out to spark an Indian collapse.
Ambati Rayudu swung and missed at a full toss from Rabada but India still had a senior partnership in Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni. Raina showed the temperament to take advantage of South Africa’s few lapses – both Abbott and Tahir’s consistency abandoned them momentarily – but the experience of Morkel ensured any youthful, or in the case of Tahir, evergreen, exuberance did not erase South Africa’s effort.
Morkel’s first wicket on his return was of Dhoni, his captain at Chennai Super Kings, who he enticed with width and had caught behind off a thick edge. With the leader gone, India fell further. Tahir’s googly accounted for Raina and Harbhajan Singh in successive balls, India lost three wickets in the space of seven balls and could not recover. Morkel mopped up the tail, with Axar Patel caught at midwicket and Bhuvneshwar Kumar clean bowled, and Morris took the final wicket.
India were bowled out with 16 balls left in their innings and lost their last eight wickets for 49 runs to leave South Africa with a clear passage for a series win. AB de Villiers could see the trophy so clearly he dispatched two back-of-a-length deliveries in Bhuvneshwar’s first over. Hashim Amla tried to do the same off R Ashwin but his flick popped up to offer leg slip a catch.
Du Plessis brought some calm to the frenzied start and then got going himself, with good use of the feet against Harbhajan and Ashwin. Du Plessis’ dancing did not serve him that well though – when he tried to charge Ashwin for the third time, he mistimed his shot and a running Mohit Sharma judged the catch well at mid-off.
It was only when de Villiers was done in by Ashwin’s change of pace, for the second time in the series and fifth time in T20s overall, that India may have thought they had a sniff. South Africa were 49 for 3 at the end of the eighth over and the heroes of the first match, JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien, promoted ahead of David Miller again, were circumspect. They could afford to take their time and were whittling away at the target, when the fans lost their patience.
South Africa needed 29 runs off 54 balls when the crowd interrupted. They began to throw bottles onto the outfield, causing a 27-minute break in play. After the authorities had policed the situation, play resumed for two overs before more bottles were thrown and play was stopped for a second time and the players went off the field this time. The break lasted 24 minutes while the upper-level stands were cleared and the match could resume again.
India managed one more wicket but could not prevent the inevitable and South Africa sauntered away with a series win.
(ESPN Sports Media Ltd.)