TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
SA’s bubble burst in Indore on Wednesday when India finally beat the men in green who, for the first time in four games, did not play golden cricket.
Instead, they answered India’s mediocrity at the crease with poor batting and went down by 22 runs in the second one-day international.
Spared embarrassment by MS Dhoni’s pugnacious 92, India totalled 247/9. SA, bolstered but not bulletproofed by Faf du Plessis’ 51, spluttered and sputtered to a reply of 225 in which Bhuv Kumar’s swing and Axar Patel’s slow left-arm combined to claim six wickets.
Unlike in the Twenty20 series, when SA snatched a tight first match and dominated the second, and in the first ODI, when they turned an impending defeat into a rousing victory, there was little drama.
Until, that is, the 40th over of the visitors’ innings – when umpire Vineet Kulkarni robbed Farhaan Behardien, SA’s last recognised batsman, of his wicket.
Harbhajan Singh’s delivery veered down the leg side. Behardien prodded unsuccessfully and Dhoni caught the ball and appealed for all his worth.
There was no noise as the ball passed the bat. There was no deviation in the ball’s flight as it beat the edge. The snickometre returned a resolute flatline. And yet Kulkarni did not signal a wide. But he did raise his finger.
Might that have happened because, on Tuesday, the Indian team manager, Vinod Phadke, threatened to “mention (Kulkarni) in my (series) report”?
“It is obvious to everybody that the umpiring has not been good,” ESPNCricinfo quoted Phadke as saying.
The Indians are unhappy that Kulkarni, their compatriot, did not give JP Duminy out leg-before to Kumar in the first T20 and that he did give Shikhar Dhawan out leg-before to Morne Morkel in the first ODI.
Might Kulkarni’s error on Wednesday have been an attempt to even the score, or did he simply make another?
Whichever it was, SA would be foolish to blame the umpiring for their loss. Not for the first time on this tour their bowlers pulled more than their weight. But, for the first time, their batsmen did not.
Scoring 248 on a pitch of decent bounce and on a small ground hemmed in even further by short straight boundaries, and against an attack that lost its sharpest tooth when Ravi Ashwin was ruled out with a side strain, was well within this SA line-up’s capabilities.
AB de Villiers termed the target “very manageable”, and added, “We got out in soft ways tonight.”
Indeed. Too many over-ambitious strokes cost SA. That and India’s commitment in the field, where Dhoni followed a snappy stumping to remove Hashim Amla by diving like a salmon to send David Miller packing first ball – off a genuine edge – and Virat Kohli took three fine catches at cover.
And a good thing Kohli did, because his runout for 12 was his 10th completed ODI innings without a half-century.
That reduced India to 82/3 and brought Dhoni to the crease. He would see his team dwindle to 104/5 and 165/7 before Harbhajan helped him add 56 for the eighth wicket.
“If the top order is not doing the job you have to do the dirty job,” Dhoni said.
Would the result ease the pressure on India?
“People want you to commit mistakes; then they can have fun with it.”
Umpire Kulkarni knows just how that feels.