Two batsmen - one with a full length dive - trying desperately to make it inside the crease, as if their lives depended on it, perfectly athletic but only to be spotted at the wrong end, completely summed up South Africa on a sunny afternoon at the Oval - clueless.
The Proteas were already recuperating from AB de Villiers' run out when Faf Du Plessis edged one to short third man off Ravichandran Ashwin and in mother of all comical mix-ups, David Miller was sold down the river by Du Plessis. It was utter chaos. Just like South Africa's entire innings post the 17th over.
On the eve of the crunch must-win match at The Oval, the common theme among the two captains was calmness and composure. Kohli had asserted the importance of striking a good balance between passion and over excitement.
De Villiers was on the same plane.
"It is really important to stay calm," de Villiers said. "Not get overexcited. The tendency will be there, because we all live for these kinds of moments."
It doesn't take an Einstein's brain to know that South Africa and big games don't go hand in hand. There's always nervous energy floating around. De Villiers spoke of importance of calmness but on the field, it seems as if there is some magnetic force that pulls them to the opposite end in crunch matches. On a good batting surface at the Oval, they failed to find the balance between caution and aggression often displaying moments of brain fade.
Calmness took turn of overcautious approach. There were early nerves and India pounced upon them. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah started off a tad scratchily as they struggled to hit right lengths first up. However amidst minimal assistance in the air and off the pitch, they soon got into the groove and hit the good and back of the length areas without giving any room. That accuracy choked the South African openers. The fielders injected energy which pegged the Proteas back. Kohli might have had Amla back in the hut as early as the third over but his off-balanced throw from mid off missed the stumps with Amla struggling big time.
After three fours in first six overs, South Africa went 36 balls without a boundary. The pacers, especially asphyxiated De Kock's scoring through the off side. After the first powerplay, the Proteas had a run rate of 3.50. They were more cautious than a first time parent taking their child out of the house for the first time. Even De Villiers was surprised by the approach.
"They put pressure on us. Going at 3 and half or 4 an over, that's not the way we usually bat," De Villiers said in presentation ceremony. "We got something going until those run-outs that cost us dearly today. We never got going. We were hoping to play a better game of cricket today. We did not plan to play conservative cricket up front. They bowled pretty well. They didn't miss the mark a lot," he added.
The feeling was that the openers would cut loose sooner or later but Ravichandran Ashwin and Hardik Pandya maintained the stranglehold. Ashwin varied his line, length and pace beautifully. They were forcing South Africa to manufacture shots. They were making them earn it the hard way.
India bowled 61% dot balls (55/90), giving away just five fours and one six in the first 15 overs.
"We contained well at the start. The ball wasn't swinging, so we wanted to stick to a tight line, not give them room. That was the basic plan for us," Bumrah said in the presentation ceremony.
The Indian bowlers read the conditions well and executed their plans to perfection which left even De Villiers impressed.
"It wasn't a pitch to pick up a lot of wickets in the first 10 overs, they assessed that really well and early,"De Villiers said in the post-match conference. "All they did was to try and hit the top of off stump with a nice tight fielding unit around, squeezing a lot of dot balls around us, not allowing any soft deliveries around the off stump. There were no easy boundary options for us. They assessed the conditions well. They knew they couldn't afford to bowl for wickets with two slips, so they went back to more of a defensive play and just tried to squeeze us and if a bowling unit does that, it's very difficult to get away," the South Africa captain added.
And then, In Ravi Shastri's words, Something had got to give.
Amla took the first step towards acceleration when he shuffled way across and hit one over deep square leg for a six, his first boundary in 25 balls, off Pandya and then another one three balls later through fine leg. There was an element of risk involved and India could sniff a chance. Two more overs went without a boundary and then Amla was goaded into one more risky shot which flew wide of mid off four four. A delivery later he finally succumbed to relentless pressure, edging a quicker one behind off Ashwin.
A subdued De Kock reached his fifty but the frustration of 'off-side choke' got to him as he swung one across the line off Jadeja's straighter one and perished in the 25th over. Out of the 53 runs, De Kock was allowed to score just 10 runs off the point-cover region.
An under-pressure De Villiers strode out to the middle and tried to up the ante with Du Plessis. However, they were up against a pumped up and livewire Indian side that was everywhere on the field - stopping tight singles, diving, whizzing in rocket throws, cheekily flicking throws onto the stumps - which instilled gremlins inside the minds of the batsmen. A couple of run outs were missed by the captain and another moment of indecision wasn't far away. Three overs later it arrived and walloped the South Africa captain who was undone by Hardik's powerful throw and Dhoni's ultra-fast hands.
The panic had invariably set in and from then on South Africa kept stepping on the same old knock-out rake, just like a nervous student who commits the same silly mistakes under pressure in final exams despite acing their mock tests.
South Africa crumbled to 8/51 in 17 overs post De Kock's wicket which included three run outs. They played out 53 percent dot balls which was a result of sustained pressure from India as they maintained the stranglehold throughout. There was no coming back from then on for the Proteas as they crumbled to an eight-wicket defeat.
"Our bowlers bowled really well and the fielders backed it up as well. I would say we had a complete performance in the field," Kohli said in the presentation ceremony.
"The pressure was built by the bowlers and that resulted in the breakthroughs in the field but its important to grab those opportunities as well," Kohli said in the post-match conference.
Kohli's astute bowling changes and field placements played a crucial part. He gave his team a 6/10 in fielding department after the Pakistan game with onus on improvement. On Sunday, it was 9/10 or may be even 9.5. With the wicket of Imran Tahir, they had now effected six run outs in the tournament, most by any team. Upping the intensity in the field was one of India's main motives and their fielding breathed life into the team after the shock loss to Sri Lanka in the last match.
"This kind of fielding performance was something what we required. Before going out we had a chat in the huddle that I want everyone's intensity go up and that was a conscious effort we have to make individually," Kohli added.
From being overcautious to overanxious, South Africa's performance was no surprise yet it left fans in disbelief. It even left De Villiers clueless with no answer to why South Africa keep on failing on the big stage.
"I don't know what happened there today, I wouldn't like to blame guys out there, it's just one of those things that happen," De Villiers said of the three farcical run outs in the South Africa innings.
Before the match, off the field, South Africa's mental preparation was in full swing but on it, there was comedy, tragedy, indecision, carelessness and chaos.
In a virtual quarterfinal at the sun-bathed Oval, a composed India applied the choke, and a clueless South Africa doubled it.
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Published Date: Jun 12, 2017 11:08 am | Updated Date: Jun 12, 2017 01:02 pm