Rotation of strike was critical, says MS Dhoni

The occasion of Kohli’s first century in eight months also heralded a return of form for Suresh Raina. The No. 6, who turned out ahead of Dhoni at No. 5 in Chennai, scored his first half-century in after seven dry matches. Dhoni pointed to his decisions to attempt big hits too early into an innings as a factor for his mediocre run of scores.

MS Dhoni praised the track for having value for fast bowlers, spinners and a set batsman.   -  AP

It was a day that had spinners making the critical impact, but the century from Virat Kohli, who paced his innings smartly to put India ahead in the first half of the contest, set the tone for the spinners to have their efforts rewarded with a win. The difference of 35 runs between South Africa and India was deemed to be largely due to Kohli’s efforts, and in particular his crucial partnership with Ajinkya Rahane that turned the tide in India’s favour, after early jitters.

“Rotation of strike eases the pressure off you. That’s why his innings was important, because on this track, the batsman who is set will find it easier than the batsman who has just come in,” M.S. Dhoni said.

The occasion of Kohli’s first century in eight months also heralded a return of form for Suresh Raina. The No. 6, who turned out ahead of Dhoni at No. 5 in Chennai, scored his first half-century in after seven dry matches. Dhoni pointed to his decisions to attempt big hits too early into an innings as a factor for his mediocre run of scores.

“Yes, he made a few bad decisions when played those shots. Depending at what point of time you go in, if I go in to bat in the last five overs, I can’t expect myself to score 50 runs. But at the same time, in five, I can look to get, maybe 30, but to get 30 runs I have to play a minimum of 15 to 20 deliveries. He has to give himself that kind of time, depending on what time you’re going in to bat. He always played the big shots too early.”

The one striking difference between the two teams was their respective batsmen’s negotiation against opposition spinners. While India took apart Imran Tahir and left-arm spinner Aaron Phangiso at more than 6.05 runs per over in their combined 18 wicketless overs, South Africa were allowed to score at only 4.8 per over in the 30 bowled by Indian spinners. Plus, the top-order damage that ultimately cost South Africa the chase was facilitated by spinners.

Dhoni praised the track for having value for fast bowlers, spinners and a set batsman. But there was no doubt the track favoured spin, seemingly more in the South African innings. The control provided by Indian spinners, aided by a deterioration of track, did the trick. Russell Domingo, the South Africa coach, did not hesitate to praise the Indian unit.

“The Indian spinners definitely out-bowled us today. There’s no doubt about it. They definitely got more out of the wicket than we did. But the wicket was also a lot more bowled when used it.”

“That’s why they are so tough to beat in India, because they have got world class spinners, they have got great control, they know how to bowl in their conditions and put us under pressure.”

But he also said spin was something they have conquered before. And until this One-Day International, they had succeeded in alien, spinning conditions, be it via their fast bowlers, and batsmen who can play spinners well.

“We generally pride ourselves as guys who play spin really well. If you look at the history of the side, we’ve gone to places and performed really well against spin, and we’re expecting that. We’re expecting wickets to be similar for the Test matches, and that is a challenge for us. It is something that excited about taking on. We want to beat some of the best sides in their conditions, this is an opportunity for us to do that. We know it’s going to be tough.”

After injuries to Morne Morkel and JP Duminy forced South Africa to alter their settled line-up for this game, there was a worry when Faf du Plessis was struck on his upper arm, near his elbow, by a ball hit with power by his batting partner AB de Villiers. He looked in a quite a bit of pain when the received the blow at the non-strikers’ end by a strike that was sure to travel quickly to the boundary had he not been in the way. But Domingo reassured that he was fine.

“Some icing and some treatment of the physio and I think he should be ok.”

The fifth ODI, now turned into a decider, will be played on Monday, October 25.