TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
ALONG with hitting a cricket ball long and lustily under even the most extreme pressure, MS Dhoni has made a career out of delivering serious somethings that on closer inspection turn out to be sweet nothings.
Dhoni’s strong suit failed him in the first one-day international in Kanpur on Sunday. Instead of smashing India to victory he fell to Kagiso Rabada in a scintillating final over of a match SA won by five runs.
But that didn’t affect the Indian captain’s supply of seriously sweet nothings.
“It’s all about how you should play cricket, it’s not about what happened,” Dhoni said with a flash of that movie star smile.
Sounds good. What the hell does it mean?
Might it have been a nod of empathy towards Rohit Sharma, who scored 106 in the first Twenty20 and 150 on Sunday and ended up on the losing side both times?
Or it could it have been a sly swipe at a SA team who have a perfect record on tour of played three, won three?
With respect, Mr Dhoni, it is indeed about “what happened”. And even if it was about “how you should play cricket” SA cannot be faulted. They have played irrisistable, entertaining, exhilarating cricket. So have India. But “what happened” is that SA have been the better team.
For instance, AB de Villiers’ decision to entrust Rabada – a 20-year-old playing in only his sixth ODI – with defending 11 off the last over was either a stroke of genius or a haphazardly happy resolution to a man management muddle.
The 49th over was Dale Steyn’s 10th and Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir had also bowled their quota by then. That left Farhaan Behardien and JP Duminy as De Villiers’ other options. With the game on the line tossing the ball at the tall kid with fire in his eyes was a no-brainer.
But De Villiers also brought Tahir back to bowl the 47th over, when India needed 35 off 24 with seven wickets in hand and SA needed a miracle. That the leg spinner duly delivered by removing the rampant Rohit and Suresh Raina points in the direction of good, calm captaincy.
Maybe too calm. On Monday those inveterate killjoys, the International Cricket Council, fined De Villiers 40% of his match fee for a slow over-rate. The rest of SA’s players were docked 20% of their earnings.
Another such slip in the next 12 months and De Villiers will face a ban like he served in Bangladesh in July, when he was barred from playing in the first ODI.
SA’s other potential problem is Faf du Plessis’ twisted knee, which kept him off the field for most of India’s innings. There was no update on his condition by Monday afternoon.
The Indians are on tenterhooks over the side strain that limited Ravichandran Ashwin to 4.4 overs. Harbhajan Singh has been called up as cover for the next two matches.
But those are ifs and buts. The real deal is that SA are on top. The trick is to stay there.
As De Villiers said, “It’s a good start. But that’s all it is.”