Right then! India's long sojourn in South Africa is nearing its close with the two teams slated to face off at the SuperSport Park in Centurion on Wednesday for what is the penultimate match of the tour — the second T20I of the series. And as we stand and look back at India's performances on the tour so far, it is fair to say that Virat Kohli and Co have had a reasonably good harvest.
They have been on the rampage ever since winning the third Test in Johannesburg, blowing away the hosts in the ODI series. They are looking good to do so in the T20Is too. It is something that couldn't be said of some of the Indian teams that had visited these shores before. South Africa at home were expected to be a formidable force, but if you leave out the first two Tests and the Pink ODI, the Proteas have been at the receiving end of India's wrath over two months or so.
India defeated the hosts by 28 runs in the first T20I of the series in Johannesburg on Sunday, and 28 runs is a big margin of victory in T20 cricket. In doing so, Kohli's crew continued the momentum from the ODI series, which they won 5-1.
Shikhar Dhawan starred with the bat, scoring his fourth T20I half-century — a quickfire 72, studded with 10 fours and two sixes. Indeed the openers Dhawan and Rohit Sharma got India off to a rollicking start at the Wanderers. Rohit was the aggressor-in-chief as he carted the South African bowling for 21 runs off eight balls, before nicking the ninth ball of his innings to wicketkeeper Heinrich Klaasen off debutant Junior Dala. But Dhawan carried on with his rich vein of form that had seen him hit three half-centuries on the trot in the ODI series, and converting one of them into a hundred.
Dhawan got support from the returning Suresh Raina, who smashed 15 off seven balls and looked his old self while he lasted. Kohli, Manish Pandey, MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya also chipped in with some valuable runs, which took India's total past 200. From thereon, it was an uphill task for the Proteas. Indeed 200 on the board in a T20 would always have the chasing side under pressure.
And it didn't help the Proteas' cause one bit that Bhuvneshwar Kumar turned up and decided that he was going to have his first T20I fifer in that match. He totally derailed the South African chase with figures of 5/24 in his four overs. Opener Reeza Hendricks, who top-scored for the hosts, with 70 off 50 balls, said of Bhuvneshwar, "He was just consistent in his areas which was pretty much giving us nothing to score off. So we had to be happy with ones and twos at that time."
Indeed it was an all-round effort by the Indians, the kind of effort that makes a captain extremely satisfied. "It was a really good wicket to bat on. Rohit and Shikhar were outstanding at the top. It was a total team batting performance and in the end Bhuvi showing his experience — all in all it was a good team effort. We were looking to do this in T20s for a long. It was one of our most balanced performances," captain Kohli said.
India would want to wrap up the series on Wednesday itself and they are the favourites to do so. They are currently third in the International Cricket Council's (ICC) T20I rankings and a series victory over South Africa could see them climb to the second spot behind Pakistan. But for that to happen, India would also be hoping that New Zealand defeat Australia in the Trans Tasman T20I Tri-series final on Wednesday.
The good news for India is that skipper Kohli, who had limped off the field during the latter stages of the previous match, is expected to be fit for Wednesday's match. "The injury was early on in the innings. It was in the glutes while taking a single. Thankfully, it wasn't a hamstring. So I went off before I would tear a muscle," Kohli said. The Indian team management has reportedly conveyed that Kohli's injury is "nothing serious".
Kohli, in fact, is approaching a major and rare milestone in his career. He is just 130 behind West Indian legend Vivian Richards' record of scoring 1,000 runs on a single tour, and is 176 runs away from overhauling Richards' total tally of 1,045 runs (829 runs in four Tests and 216 runs in ODIs) that he scored on the tour of England in 1976. Kohli has already scored 870 runs from 13 innings (286 runs in three Tests, 558 runs in six ODIs and 26 runs in the first T20I) at an average of 87 and a strike rate of 82.38 on this tour of the Rainbow Nation. Don Bradman had amassed 974 runs in five Tests during Australia's tour of England in 1930.
The Centurion pitch is expected to be on the slower side, and so it may be prudent to give Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav a chance. Kuldeep and fellow wrist-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal have been in roaring form of late and India would do well to have the spin twins playing together, which would mean Jaydev Unadkat missing out.
The South Africans would be hamstrung by the absence of AB de Villiers, who is ruled out of the T20I series with a left knee problem, and their team looks a bit too inexperienced.
"Unfortunately from a batting perspective, that's been our Achilles heel throughout this Indian tour in the short format. As players and as senior batsmen we have to take responsibility for that," Proteas captain JP Duminy said after the loss in Johannesburg.
"We've got to look ourselves in the mirror, ask how we can improve and get better. Hopefully that improves (sic) come Wednesday. I still believe and feel the plans are good, but especially when it's a shorter format you have to execute well. Unfortunately there were few missed opportunities throughout the innings. But we'll definitely come back stronger. I firmly believe that," Duminy said.
For starters, they would have to improve their fielding. It is something which you never thought you would have to suggest a South African team to do, but their catching especially has left a lot to be desired on this tour, and they dropped a catch off the deadly dangerous Kohli in the first T20I, and numerous times earlier in the tour.
How efficiently Duminy and his team execute their plans would be the key to determining whether they can keep the series alive after Wednesday. The odds, though, are heavily stacked against them.
India: Virat Kohli(c), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Lokesh Rahul, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Jaydev Unadkat, Shardul Thakur, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Manish Pandey, Axar Patel, Yuzvendra Chahal
South Africa: Jean-Paul Duminy(c), Farhaan Behardien, Junior Dala, Reeza Hendricks, Dane Paterson, Aaron Phangiso, Andile Phehlukwayo, Tabraiz Shamsi, JJ Smuts, Christiaan Jonker, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Chris Morris
Match starts at 9.30 pm IST.