Virat Kohli smashed a sparkling century as India levelled the five-match cricket series 2-2 against South Africa after beating the visitors by 35 runs in the fourth ODI in Chennai on Thursday.
On a day when two of the most exciting cricketers in the world staged a fight — one through caution and the other through carefree batting — India could congratulate themselves for getting their batting order and the plan to persist with a three-spinner strategy right. South Africa were left to rue the absence of JP Duminy and Morne Morkel for the crunch match on Thursday.
After Virat Kohli’s sparkling century (138 – 140 b, 6x4, 5x6), Indian spinners tightened the noose around South Africa to level the ODI series 2-2 at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. In a must-win game, India beat South Africa by 35 runs at the Chepauk Stadium to take the series decider to Mumbai. Setting a target of 300, India reined in the visitors despite AB de Villiers (112 – 107 b, 10x4, 2x6) threatening to take the game away.
Dhoni, on winning the toss, batted first. It did seem a popular choice as he knows the turf very well. Still, when the openers fell in the space of seven runs, hopes of a fightback were faraway.
But India returned to their original batting template, playing Kohli at No 3, Raina at 5 and Dhoni at 6. Kohli took charge, playing a knock devoid of high risks. India’s insistence on picking singles, rotating the strike and occasionally picking boundaries was exemplified by Kohli. In the company of Ajinkya Rahane, Kohli didn’t underestimate the importance of singles as he got partnerships going. His two century-plus stands laid the foundation for the team.
In search of a century for the last eight months, Kohli’s relief was evident in his celebrations after hitting left-arm spinner Aaron Phangiso over long-on for six to reach his 23rd ODI century. Thumping his chest and flexing his biceps in the direction of the dressing room, Kohli announced he was back his best in ODIs.
Suresh Raina too found his touch after a string of poor scores. Rahane’s good form up the order was again on view in his steadying 104-run partnership with Kohli for the third wicket. Kohli and Rahane picked singles and ran well. Kohli played against the spin by stepping out to Imran Tahir and hit him and Phangiso into the stands, and lifted Dale Steyn with contempt.
Despite Kohli’s ton, South Africa fought back in the last five overs as India lost five wickets in the last 5.1 overs, the last four overs producing 18 runs for four wickets.
The job of containing South Africa wasn’t difficult for Harbhajan Singh, Axar Patel, Amit Mishra on a track that held so much promise for them. De Villiers though played as if he was from another planet as neither the spinners nor seamers could stop him. While the discomfort of his teammates against spin was evident, he was running a contest that appeared to be him versus India.
But with partners deserting him and the run rate spiralling, his brilliant knock wasn’t enough in the end.