For the second time in three matches, Rohit Sharma hit a splendid century, but had to end up on the losing side. This time, he sparkled with 150 from 133 balls, but India stumbled after his dismissal in chase of 304, set up by another fine ton by South African skipper AB de Villiers. The match went into the last over, with India needing 11 with five wickets in hand. But, Kagiso Rabada dismissed MS Dhoni and Stuart Binny off consecutive deliveries, both slogging well-directed short balls straight up in the air as South Africa won by five runs to take the crucial 1-0 lead.
It was in the period after Rohit was dismissed that India lost the plot completely. The opener had just completed his 150 when he was caught and bowled by Imran Tahir as he tried to check his uppish drive. That was the first delivery of the 47th over, and South Africa maintained the pressure from there on. With Dhoni struggling to find the boundaries, Suresh Raina came in and tried to slog one out of the park, but only ended up giving Tahir his second wicket of the over. The spinner had turned the game.
Dhoni ran hard between the wickets, putting together a sequence of twos, but managed only one boundary in his 31 when he fell to Rabada trying to claim the big hit that could have given India the significant advantage in the last over. His innings was in stark contrast to Rohit, who continued his blazing form. Till Rohit was at the crease, India were always in control. He eased his way to sixes against all the key South African bowlers, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Tahir. But, he could not get the desired support from Dhoni.
Chasing 304, India got off to a confident start, with Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit easing their way to 42 when Dhawan was unlucky to have been given leg before to Morne Morkel for 23. The ball seemed to be heading down the leg side, and was possibly a bit high as well. Surprisingly, Ajinkya Rahane, who was rightly recalled, was sent in at number three, ahead of Virat Kohli, who has been doing the job for years now. To his credit, Rahane again applied himself to the task on hand, making a defiant 60, and featuring in a century stand with Rohit.
Earlier, South Africa’s batting was once again led by the skipper de Villiers, who slammed a superb hundred. He blasted an unbeaten 104 from merely 73 balls, a scintillating knock featuring five fours and six sixes, the last of which brought up his century off the last ball of the innings. Earlier, Faf du Plessis chipped in with a crucial 62. But, it was de Villiers’ partnership with Farhaan Behardien (35 not out from 19) that swung the momentum in the visitors’ favour. It was the kind of innings, India needed from their leader Dhoni.
--By A Cricket Correspondent