Virat Kohli's men created history by becoming the first Indian team to win a bilateral One-Day International (ODI) series on South African soil with an emphatic 73-run win over the hosts in the fifth game at Port Elizabeth Tuesday night. The Men in Blue wrapped up the series 4-1 with a match to go and have also ensured they will be at the top of the International Cricket Council's ODI rankings. Going into the series, the Proteas were ranked number one followed by the Indians.
The two young wrist spinners - Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal - along with Shikhar Dhawan, Kohli and Rohit Sharma were the stars of the Indian triumph. Left-arm chinaman bowler Kuldeep and traditional leggie Chahal bamboozled the South African batsmen with their flight, variation and accuracy. The two bowled slow and deceived the batsmen in air. The Indian think tank deserves credit for the fielding both the spinners from the opening match at Durban. The two accounted for 30 of the 43 South African wickets to have fallen in the series so far.
Kuldeep and Chahal were not scared of being hit and the onus was on picking up wickets in the middle overs - a vital aspect of taking control of an ODI game. The two young spinners enjoy the confidence of their skipper and showed character to come back strong after being smashed in the previous game at Johannesburg where the wet outfield hampered their chances in a rain-curtailed chase. The form of both the tweakers augurs well for Team India with the World Cup less than one-and-a-half-year away. True, the wickets in the series provided assistance to the spinners and the hosts were hit hard by injuries but that should not take any credit away by from the performances of Kuldeep and Chahal.
Dhawan comes to the party
Dhawan and Kohli did the bulk of the scoring for the Indians. The way Dhawan handled the short ball has been the key to the left-hander's success in the series. He used the pull shot to good effect and as is his wont scored runs at a fair clip. Dhawan's partner Rohit proved his class with a superb ton at Port Elizabeth. The elegant right-hander ended a poor run of scores and demonstrated he's right up there with the best when it comes to white ball cricket.
Kohli has been simply sensational with the bat. The skipper was consistency personified and made the most of the good form to run up big scores.
The Indian new ball bowlers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah made sure the South African openers did not get off to a flier and provided the early breakthrough in the first power play. Haridk Pandya also pulled his weight by picking up the vital wickets of J-P Duminy and AB de Villiers besides running out a well-set Hashim Amla with with a direct hit at Port Elizabeth.
It has not been all hunky-dory for the Indians. The middle order batting still remains an issue and the team could not make the most of the superb platform provided by the top order in the games at Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. Ajinkya Rahane scored a crucial 79 at No. 4 in the opening match but went off the boil since then. Pandya found the going tough with the bat while M S Dhoni can no longer start attacking from the word go. Rookie Shreyas Iyer looked good in patches and the team management needs to give him a longer rope.
The Indian catching as well as the no-ball issue plaguing the bowling unit are also areas of concern. The players need to iron out these chinks for the Men in Blue to become a great one-day outfit. Champion sides do not give the opposition a chance to comeback into the contests and Kohli and Co. need to imbibe that quality. But for the moment, let us savor this triumph.