BENGALURU – India captain Virat Kohli’s bold move to bat first boomeranged on his team as Quinton de Kock (79) spearheaded South Africa’s chase for a series-levelling nine-wicket win in the third T20 International here on Sunday.
To everyone’s surprise, Kohli opted to bat after the coin landed in his favour on one of the smallest grounds, always known to favour teams chasing in the shortest format.
Initially though, the decision seemed to have worked as India raced to 54 for one in six overs at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.
The departure of Shikhar Dhawan gave the South Africans an opening, and they grabbed it with both hands, snuffing out eight Indian wickets for 71 runs.
In their chase, South African captain de Kock looked in complete control and struck six fours and five sixes in his unbeaten 52-ball unbeaten 79.
He added 76 runs for the first wicket with Reeza Hendricks in 10 overs and then put on another 64 with Temba Bavuma. After moving to 19 in four overs, De Kock cut loose by hitting Navdeep Saini for two sixes, and there was no looking back.
Earlier, India were stopped at 134 for nine by a disciplined South African attack.
Top-scorer Dhawan blazed away to a 25-ball 36 and got India off to a brisk start that yielded them 54 runs in the first six overs.
Kagiso Rabada was expensive but picked up three wickets, while there were two apiece for Bjorn Fortuin (2/19 in 3 overs) and Beuran Hendricks (2/14).
Playing in his first game of the series, Beuran Hendricks was the team’s best bowler without a doubt as he choked run-flow in the middle overs along with left-arm spinner Fortuin.
Rohit Sharma got out early but he did put pace spearhead Kagiso Rabada under pressure straightaway, striking him for two boundaries in his first over one over cover and the other through extra cover.
That brought crowd favourite Kohli in the middle but Dhawan, who began the innings with a boundary, was in charge and welcomed leg-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi with back-to-back sixes.
The first six was smashed over long-on and the for the second maximum, Dhawan sashayed down the ground, played against the turn, before striking the ball towards long-off.
Going for one too many, Dhawan mistimed Shamsi, who had his revenge after Temba Bavuma completed a neat catch. Kohli, too, followed suit as Andile Phehlukwayo pulled off a fine running catch in the deep, much to Rabada, the bowler on the occasion, and his team’s relief.
Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant, who improvised to scoop Dwaine Pretorius over the fine leg boundary, threw away their wickets within two balls, leaving India in trouble at 92 for five in the 13th over.
After Pant fell prey to Fortuin’s smart piece of bowling, Iyer stepped out out only to be stumped off a wide ball.
It was yet another failure for Pant and once again to a left-arm spinner. After Santner accounted him in the World Cup, Fortuin has now got him twice in two games.
At the toss, Kohli’s contention was that he doesn’t want the team to slip into a comfort zone. Batting first or second, he wants his team to be a master of all situations with little more than a year left for the T20 World Cup.
However, it did not prove to be a successful move as South Africa staged a strong comeback to level the three-match series 1-1 after the first game was washed out.
We will follow template of batting first going into World T20, insists Kohli
His decision may have backfired but India captain Virat Kohli made it clear that his team won’t deviate from the template of opting to bat first rather than chase on flat decks, going into next year’s World T20 in Australia.
Having loaded the team with all-rounders, India bat as deep as nine but it didn’t work on a flat Chinnaswamy deck where the ‘Men in Blue’ scored only 134 losing by 9 wickets to a relatively inexperienced South African side.
“(This is) exactly what we wanted to do and that’s going to be the template we’ll follow for games we have before the World Cup (on opting to bat after winning the toss). The mindset has to be flexible and to try out things when situations are stacked against us,” Kohli said at the post-match presentation ceremony.
For the Indian captain, Sunday’s loss was one-off where the execution wasn’t top notch.
“We will have games like this, where we don’t execute what we want. But as long as the intent is there to improve, we’ll be in a good zone. I think South Africa bowled well, the pitch suited them in the first innings and we weren’t able to read the tempo of the game well,” said Kohli.
Kohli said that to challenge the players out of their comfirt zone by batting first is precisely because T20 is one format, where chasing is easier than batting first.
“I would say only in T20 cricket (where chasing is easier). In one-day cricket, you have time for the bowlers to comeback, but here a partnership of 40-50 can take the game away from you. One good partnership and you are under the pump even if you are defending 200,” said Kohli.
The skipper reiterated that he would like to get the core composition ready as quickly as possible.
“The squad composition, we will try to get right as soon as we can. The guys, who have done well in the domestic circuit are getting opportunities, so it’s not like we are playing random people.
“You have to understand as well that it’s a very young side, you have to give them time as a team to come together. We batted till 9 tonight, and that’s one area we’re looking to strengthen.”
Kohli’s opposite number Quinton de Kock, on his part said keeping things “nice and simple” worked for them.
“We focused on hitting a good length. Our spinners kept it tight too. Beuran bowled really well and he has got the skills. Sometimes it’s better on these wickets to take the pace off. We fixed one or two things from our mistakes in the last game. Our intensity in the field has also been really good.”
Man of the match Hendricks said that he had bowled better than this game but is happy about how things worked for him.
“I have bowled better than this. Lots of hard work put in behind the scenes, so happy with that. I don’t really look at the pitch when we come out to warm-up. The overcast conditions meant some swing was there. Once I assessed that, I didn’t need to change much,” he insisted.
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