TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
Two left-handers walked out to open the batting for SA in the third one-day international against India in Rajkot on Sunday. All eyes were on one of them, and he wasn’t Quinton de Kock.
Instead he was David Miller, bumped up from a middle order in which he had scraped together 33 runs in his previous three innings.
“It was a bit of out-of-the-box thinking from us,” AB de Villiers admitted.
Thirty-three was also Miller’s contribution on Sunday. But whether that represented success was a debate drowned out by what happened next.
So much so that it was almost easy to forget that SA won by 18 runs, scoring 270/7 and limiting India to 252/6.
And that they suffocated India’s batsmen with superb defensive bowling – no wickets fell between the 30th and 40th but only 37 runs were scored.
And that another win will earn SA the series.
And even that Morne Morkel hardly delivered a bad ball in taking 4/39 and counted dangermen Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni among his victims.
“Bit of a sour taste the way I feel,” an exhausted Morkel managed to say as the temperature remained stuck at 37 degrees late into the night.
De Kock eclipsed all that. Before Sunday he had last scored a century for SA, in any format, 19 innings ago. He had passed 50 only once and been out in the single figures eight times, twice for a duck.
His 103 was a return to the path of the player he will be when he grows up. Often a batman bent on imposing himself on the bowlers and the conditions, De Kock welcomed the bowlers into his space and was happy to share it with a woozy pitch.
De Kock tamed those variables with fancy footwork and punching power, dashing and crashing 83 of his runs in front of square on both sides of the wicket.
“Quinton answered a lot of questions just the way Quinton de Kock can,” De Villiers said.
For 20.1 overs the Indians could not separate De Kock and Faf du Plessis in a stand that swelled to 118. They had their opportunities, what with Du Plessis caught off a no-ball and dropped twice; tough chances both.
The century stand papered over the cracks opened by Hashim Amla, De Villiers and JP Duminy being removed for 23 runs between them, and Farhaan Behardien’s dab-handed 33 not out put a competitive veneer on SA’s total.
De Kock’s energy was sapped by an effort lasting almost two hours in 90% humidity. He was off the field for the first 29 overs of India’s reply, when De Villiers kept wicket.
Perhaps sweaty hands were to blame for the catches dropped by Morkel – twice – De Villiers and Duminy, who also had a stumping missed by De Kock.
For the first half of India’s reply, in which they reached 124/2 with Kohli going strong, SA didn’t have a hope. Then the visitors turned off the tap – Imran Tahir bowled four overs for just nine runs between the 30th and 40th – and Morkel removed Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane with consecutive deliveries.
They fell to well-judged catches in the deep, both of them held in the sure hands of Miller. Remember him?