AB de Villiers played the type of innings only he can, scoring 112 off 107 balls, but the Indian spinners ensured that South Africa fell short in the fourth One-Day International (ODI) at MA Chidambaram Stadium on Thursday. India’s 35-run win ensured that they managed to draw level in the series 2-2 with the last match now being the series decider. He received virtually no support from the rest of the batsmen, with only Farhaan Behardien, Chris Morris, and Aaron Phangiso hanging around. Harbhajan Singh took 2 for 50, Akshar Patel took 1 for 40, and Amit Mishra took 1 for 55 as de Villiers took South Africa agonisingly close before falling to Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who despite being extremely expensive early on ended up as India’s leading wicket-taker on the day. Mohit Sharma managed to keep the runs down and also take the important wicket of Hashim Amla in the process.
Amla was back to open the innings with Quinton de Kock after dropping down the order in the third ODI, but his poor form continued. Amla ended up pulling Mohit to Shikhar Dhawan to midwicket for 7. His opening partner de Kock, fresh off a century in the last game, continued to bat fluently against the wayward Bhuvneshwar, but was done in by the wily Harbhajan. The off-spinner bowled the ideal delivery to the left-hander, getting the ball to loop and turn and take the edge to the man at slip. Faf du Plessis failed for once in the series, edging Akshar to MS Dhoni for 17, and David Miller followed soon after getting LBW to Harbhajan.
Throughout all the carnage at the other end, de Villiers was serene. He played his usual unconventional shots — he was beaten by the flight at least twice before making a last-minute adjustment to pick up boundaries instead — and mixed it with solid running, sound defence, and his usual unflappable temperament. Even while batting with No. 8 Phangiso he was seen sporting a bright smile from time to time. For as long as he was batting it looked like South Africa were in with a chance, but his dismissal for a 107-ball 112 sealed the game for India.
Earlier, Virat Kohli battled cramps and his own lacklustre form to score his 23rd ODI century, leading India to 299 for 8. Kohli was involved in two vital but contrasting century partnerships with Ajinkya Rahane and Suresh Raina respectively en route to his 138, as India finally put in the perfect batting performance. Kohli, back at his preferred No. 3 slot, showed his big-match temperament in a must-win game for India — trailing 1-2 against the visitors — with only his third 50-plus score this year. He was completely out of sorts till the previous match, where he found some form with an innings of 77 though India went on to lose the game.
India got off to a good start, with Rohit Sharma hitting a flurry of boundaries to give India a bit of much-needed momentum early on. His 19-ball 21 had four boundaries, most of which were confident pulls against the quick bowlers. Rohit was dismissed when he flicked one to Faf du Plessis at midwicket. Shikhar Dhawan continued with his lean run, and followed soon thereafter after edging Kagiso Rabada to Quinton de Kock for 7 off 15 balls.
Rahane, batting at No. 4, came in with the score reading 35 for 2 and gave Kohli excellent company. The duo added an excellent 104, with Rahane contributing 45 off 53 balls. The Kohli-Rahane stand was a vital one for India. Unlike most of the matches, they ensured runs kept coming from both ends, and kept the run rate close to the six-per-over mark without ever crossing it. It was good enough for India though; with enough batting still to come it was important for them to lay a foundation, which they did. Rahane’s dismissal brought in Raina — who was under immense pressure with just 3 runs in the tournament till this point — at No. 5. He finally came good on his “home” ground, scoring a quick-fire half-century in a 127-run stand with Kohli. Raina was eventually out for 53 off 52 deliveries, hitting one from Dale Steyn to Ab de Villiers, who had dropped Raina off Imran Tahir earlier.
Kohli was cramping up quite severely by this time, and struggled to take the quick singles that MS Dhoni thrives on. He kept battling on, but eventually feathered an edge from Kagiso Rabada through to de Kock for a fantastic 140-ball 138 with six fours and five sixes. Rabada then took out Harbhajan Singh off the next ball to find himself on a hat-trick once again, but Akshar Patel negated the hat-trick ball without much trouble. Rabada and Dale Steyn continued to bowl brilliantly at the death, conceding a mere 69 runs in the last 10 overs to strangle the Indian batsmen and keep them down to a chase-able 300.