Scintillating series set for competitive climax

Sunday Times 


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

RUSSELL Domingo is, in the nicest possible way, a frustrated accountant of a coach – if he can’t count something it doesn’t count for much.

“There’s still 22 days of cricket left,” he said before India and SA played the fourth one-day international in Chennai on Thursday. “We’ve only played five.”

Make that six, and not all of the best. India’s 35-run win on Thursday was only SA’s second setback in those five completed games. But it set up a decider in Mumbai on Sunday.

Fifty-over cricket is founded on fascism that arms batsmen to the nuclear teeth and leaves bowlers stranded in a minefield on one side of an electric fence and fielders handcuffed to the other.

So even a man as smart as MS Dhoni sounds stupid when he says, as he did after Thursday’s game: “As we are seeing in the 40th to 50th (overs), it’s not easy just to go in and slam the big shots and get 80 to 90 runs.”

India’s captain was, of course, talking about the crime against batsmen the suits have committed by allowing a fifth fielder in the outfield in the last 10 overs an ODI innings.

What’s not easy about smashing a bowler who dare not venture down the leg side or over shoulder height through or over an outfield populated by less than half the fielding team, like tumbleweeds in a dead-horse town?

Would Dhoni prefer the match referee to line up the fielding side after the toss and put a bullet through their left kneecaps? For the power play, right knees forward …

Not so loud: even suits read, and they wouldn’t know a joke if it walked into a bar and offered them a bribe not to tell itself.

Silliness aside, this series has risen above the limitations of its unfair format to deliver cricket that has been absorbing, scintillating and, most importantly, consistently competitive.

India have gone from the doormats they were during the T20 series to, when the mood strikes, flying a magic carpet to their victory party.

SA have found the calm under pressure that, had they discovered it years ago, would have made them a far better team.

We have seen five centuries in four matches, two each in two of those games, and two of them by cricket’s resident genius, AB de Villiers.

We have seen a streetfighting 92 not out by old man Dhoni, his greying hair fairly glowing in defiance as he smote and smote some more.

We have seen Kagiso Rabada scare stadiums full of even the hoariest Indian supporters into even scarier silence.

We have seen what JP Duminy means to SA’s cause after he was ruled out of the last two ODIs with a hand injury.

“JP’s a world class player and in these conditions he fits the allrounder role really well because he’s able to bowl a good number of overs,” Domingo said. “He’s the perfect guy for that. So it is a big loss for us.”

SA tried to paper over that crack on Thursday by picking Aaron Phangiso as a second spinner and asking Chris Morris to impersonate an allrounder. Neither ploy was a roaring success or a definite flop, but they did weaken SA’s batting.

And how they could have used someone to stay with De Villiers, whose 112 took SA closer to victory than they had any right to be.

Might David Miller be that man, at the top of the order? Or Dean Elgar? Or should SA stop pretending Khaya Zondo exists only for their transformation headcount?

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