TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
JUST like that, SA have won a series in India. And in some style: they wiped the floor with the home side in the second Twenty20 in Cuttack on Monday night, winning by six wickets with 17 balls remaining. Easy as you like.
But there was nothing easy about this success, achieved between bouts of crowd violence and after a 2000km journey from the first match of the series in Dharamsala on Friday.
A full house of 44 790 blue-blooded, red-misted fans had crowded into the Barabati stadium to see the first T20 international at a ground that India have graced with their presence in just two tests and 17 one-day internationals since 1982.
They did not like what they saw. India were shot out for 92 – their second-lowest total in the format and SA’s second-best T20 bowling effort against a team from a test-playing country. That left SA’s batsmen minimal work, and JP Duminy did the biggest chunk of it in his unbeaten 30.
“It’s easy to be a captain when the bowlers perform like that,” Faf du Plessis said. “They were exceptional – that’s probably the best we’ve ever bowled in a T20.”
It was indeed a handsome win but it was earned amid ugliness. Perhaps the shower of plastic bottles filled with water that flew from the stands towards the field as victory and defeat neared, preventing play for 19 minutes and then another 35, explained why India don’t play in Cuttack more often.
“If you’ve watched India when they do well you’ve got no right to throw rubbish when they play badly,” said no less than Sunil Gavaskar on commentary.
During India’s innings the stands provided a barometer of SA’s superiority: the more the visitors dominated the quieter the spectators became.
The silence first descended in the eighth over when Rohit Sharma – he of the 106 in Dharamsala – was run out by David Miller’s direct hit at the bowler’s end from point.
The gloom only deepened. No pair of Indian batsmen stayed together for more than four overs, and a couple of 22s by Sharma and Suresh Raina was the best of their batting.
They suffered three ducks amid their six single-figure scores and hit just eight fours and no sixes. In Dharamsala they hammered 15 sixes and 11 fours.
But all that under-achievement didn’t happen by accident. It was a reaction to the superb actions of SA’s bowlers and fielders, and Du Plessis’ captaincy.
The cucumber cool Albie Morkel celebrated his first game for SA since April 2014 with a haul of 3/12, counting MS Dhoni among his victims.
Imran Tahir, competitiveness sparking like lightening in his eyes, removed Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh with consecutive deliveries.
Chris Morris, who three weeks ago talked of being put in a “very dark space” by a groin injury, bowled six dot balls in his 2.2 overs and took 2/16. Welcome back to the light, fella.
Kagiso Rabada bowled four fine overs in which he bristled with aggression and variety. Top job.
Unlike on Friday, when difficult chances were spilled, SA held all their catches. They also claimed two runouts and their ground fielding was watertight.
Du Plessis presided over all that with an icy calm. From his field placings to his bowling changes to the smile of an older brother that never seemed to leave his face, he was in effortless control.
Apparently effortless, that is.