Kohli, Harbhajan help India level series

The Indian batsmen, led by Virat Kohli, looted the spinners, and the spin unit, led by Harbhajan Singh, turned and foxed batsmen, to reap a commanding win. It sets up a decider, with the five-match series tied at 2-2, in Mumbai.

South Africa have been smart and creative with their strengths to have held an upper hand over India in their tour without much reliance on spin. However, spin finally undid them, on an occasion when they added an extra spinner in their line-up, and on a pitch that looked like a rank turner only when Indian spinners had the ball. The Indian batsmen, led by Virat Kohli, looted the spinners, and the spin unit, led by Harbhajan Singh, turned and foxed batsmen, to reap a commanding win. It sets up a decider, with the five-match series tied at 2-2, in Mumbai.

Quinton de Kock and his opening partner Hashim Amla began their chase of 300 steadily, but South Africa stumbled onto an unfathomable maze once spinners were employed on a Chennai pitch that was yet to show its preference for spinners. Harbhajan was introduced in the 10th over, and left-arm spinner Axar Patel in the next. Runs dried up, the ball began to jump and turn, the solid-looking De Kock got out, as did three other frontline batsmen, to puncture South Africa’s batting endeavour.

De Kock, who stroked effortless fours through the off side and a six off an awe-inspiring pull to long leg, departed tamely in Harbhajan’s second over, edging him to Ajinkya Rahane at second slip. Faf du Plessis, soon after, edged Patel behind, but didn’t seem to realise his touch. After being given out, he seemed nonplussed, but replays showed a slight spike on the snickometer as the ball passed the bat. David Miller and Farhaan Behardien, after a period of uncertain survival, were undone by full balls that struck their pads.

AB de Villiers, however, ploughed on and attempted a smart, tempered counterattack. It allowed his team to retain a glimpse at the target till the death overs and reduced the margin of defeat. He swept, reverse-swept, slogged, pulled and used his feet to Harbhajan and co., against whom he batted for the majority of his stay, and accelerated when he could. He hit three fours in an over from Bhuvneshwar Kumar that had a wicket being lost at the other end, that of Behardien, and followed it up with two fours off the next over, from leg-spinner Amit Mishra.

He eventually found a stable partner in No. 8, Aaron Phangiso, and reached his century in his company, by charging Mishra down the track and depositing him straight for a six. It was his first ton at the venue, and his second in the series, but this time in a losing cause. With the required run-rate a touch below 12 in the 45th over, he was caught behind as he attempted a heave off a short ball from Bhuvneshwar. It signified the end of South Africa’s resistance.

At the start of the contest, however, it was India who were under pressure. With the game-plan of preventing giving width outside off stump, or pitching too full, the fast bowlers had tied the Indian openers down. Rohit Sharma, after stroking some smooth boundaries, including a casual flick and two stylish pull shots, tamely flicked Chris Morris to du Plessis at short midwicket. Dhawan, at the other end, was out to an attempted pull, clumsily played.

  Kohli, however, changed the scenario with enterprising batting. He stitched a solid partnership with Ajinkya Rahane, and went on to score a century. The two had exchanged batting spots, and it seemed to serve both of them well. They were helped in their endeavour by ineffective spin bowling from legspinner Imran Tahir and the second spinner Phangiso. They bowled nine overs each, and ended up conceding 109 runs off their 18 overs.

Kohli reached his century in the 38th over, with a six down the ground off Phangiso. Besides his authoritative boundaries, a trademark of this knock, his first century in Chennai, was aggressive running between the wickets. On a few occasions he escaped narrowly, having to put in the dive when the ball was hit to close-in fielders, but the intent helped him.

Rahane was dismissed in the middle of India’s innings against the run of play, when a rare delivery with width provided outside off, by a South African fast bowler, had him fishing and being caught behind. Raina utilised the platform laid and the lapse of discipline and confidence among the bowlers on a hot afternoon to his advantage. He hit three fours, and off Kagiso Rabada, he took a six, punishing a full delivery from the paceman. He scored an attacking half-century, his first since the World Cup, done at his IPL home ground.

The fast bowlers took six of the eight wickets to fall, and were impressive at the death. Three wickets were claimed and only 17 conceded, in the final four overs of India’s innings. It helped them restrict India to below 300, but this eventually proved to be only a consolation prize.

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