TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
AS the Chennai crowd celebrated the straight six that took India’s Virat Kohli to a finely measured hundred on Thursday, the scrawny centurion flexed his arms and stared pointedly at each of the biceps he doesn’t quite have.
The gesture made Kohli look like Popeye when he’s all out of spinach. Until, that is, SA’s batsmen discovered that the pitch of sundried dhal prepared for the fourth one-day international demanded the dominance of mind over muscle.
SA’s game, with bat and ball and even in the field, is mostly about power wielded emphatically. The six, flat as an Eastern Caper’s vowel, AB de Villiers drilled down the ground to reach his century was a cameo of exactly that.
The aggressive approach has served SA well on this tour, but it did not do so well enough on Thursday – when India won by 35 runs to distill the series down to a decider in Mumbai on Sunday.
Kohli’s 135 was a daring dance at bowlers who prefer to do the leading, a dash of dazzle done again and again and again. It swept India to 299/8, a total that would have loomed significantly larger had Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn not both taken wickets with consecutive balls in the last five overs.
De Villiers’ 112 was defiance on legs; legs that found every which way to hold him up as he played every which flavour of stoke, and legs that crumpled with cramp as a hot afternoon gave way to a hot evening. Without him SA would not have got near their 264/9.
Even De Villiers, who is prone to tell us how much he hates losing, could see the romance: “I love the way the boys fought tonight; they didn’t give up right to the end.”
And his own performance?
“I never felt in, I had to work really hard.”
It was left to Kohli to heap the praise: “My heart was in my mouth (while De Villiers was batting) – he played every stroke in the book.
“I’ve played alongside him (for Royal Challengers Bangalore), and it’s not a good feeling watching that as a member of the opposition.”
Hang on, Mr Kohli, didn’t you also score a few runs?
“Any century you make in a winning cause is always more special.”
Indeed. But the subplot behind those starring roles told an important story. The 56 De Villiers and Farhaan Behardien put on was SA’s only stand of half-century proportions. Kohli presided over partnerships of 104 and 127 with Ajinkya Rahane and Suresh Raina.
India earned another edge by picking three spinners to SA’s two, not that the visitors had more frontline purveyors of slow poison to deploy having picked both Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso.
All the wickets SA took were claimed by their quicks, as were four of those that fell to India. But sharp turn and no hint of pace to help batsmen get away with falsely timed strokes meant spin was king.
Despite that medium pacer Bhuv Kumar decided the issue in the 45h over when De Villiers top-edged a bouncer to MS Dhoni to end SA’s one-man challenge.
With that, the game was up. Until Sunday, that is.