The jury will still be out on that aspect of the character in India – the meltdown at the Wanderers last Saturday will have been noted by their rivals – but in claiming the series, this 15-man squad, 11 of whom haven’t played at a World Cup, will have gained a significant boost in their self-belief.
In keeping with what has been an enthralling series, this final encounter also went down to the last 10 overs, thanks to one of the finest and most brutal knocks seen.
Yusuf Pathan nearly took India to the brink of an unlikely win, following a top-order collapse that left the tourists on 98/7 in the 20th over in pursuit of a Duckworth/Lewis adjusted target of 268. Morné Morkel (4/52), Lonwabo Tsotsobe (2/57) and Dale Steyn (2/32) had destroyed the Indian top-order with some aggressive fast bowling, backed up by some superb catching.
Winning seemed impossible, but with someone of Pathan’s awesome power and timing, no target is out of reach. And so he dispatched the spinners to all parts, and when Graeme Smith went back to his quicks, he plundered runs off them too, the ball often times breaking the sound barrier as it flew off his big bat and over the fence. Kudos to Zaheer Khan for showing patience and courage to hang around with him as the pair put on 100 for the ninth wicket, causing anxiety levels to sky-rocket as the runs required dropped with alarming speed.
Pathan’s hundred received token though sporting applause with the patriotic crowd fearing another meltdown by their side. Fortunately it didn’t last much longer and the roar that went up once Faf du Plessis held the catch that ended Pathan’s innings (105, 70 balls, 8×4, 8×6) spoke to the relief everyone felt. He received a fully-deserved standing ovation for his efforts.
Pathan’s century stood in stark contrast to the one that had preceded it, and around which South Africa’s sturdy total was built.
The home team’s batting was a mixture of brilliance and stupidity. There was very little fault to be found in the innings of Hashim Amla, who applied the lessons learnt from starts made and then not built on in previous innings in this series to marshal the hosts batting after they were asked to take first strike.
Amla made good starts in Durban and in Port Elizabeth, but on both occasions gave his wicket away with uncharacteristic sloppiness – yesterday he took greater care. He was quick on anything short initially, but having got to 20 and hitting four boundaries, he then adopted a more circumspect approach.
His next 33 scoring shots were all singles as he built partnerships of 97 for the second wicket with Morné van Wyk and then 102 for the fourth wicket with JP Duminy. Amla’s control allowed Van Wyk to be aggressive. Though fortunate at times, Van Wyk also played some wonderful cuts – his favourite stroke – and also drove with furious power when offered sufficient width.
Van Wyk, in two innings since his somewhat surprising call-up to the World Cup squad, has put himself in the frame for the starting XI in India in the event that South Africa choose to play seven batsmen when Jacques Kallis returns. He certainly has the necessary experience with the bat, and even without pads and gloves, is sufficiently athletic in the field.
Though AB de Villiers failed again – his last four scores have been 8, 16, 3 and 11 after he made 76 in the first game – Duminy’s fine form continued as he made a well-crafted innings, though his wicket began the quite diabolical collapse that followed the rain break.
Before the rain arrived, Duminy and Amla had put South Africa in a position of superiority, and had just taken the batting PowerPlay. The 78-minute delay changed the entire outlook of the innings. South Africa’s PowerPlay was cut by one over, their innings by another three, though that can in no way excuse their atrocious play when the teams returned.
Duminy top edged an attempted slog, one ball after playing an exquisite cover drive for four, Johan Botha was caught behind, Robin Peterson yorked and then Steyn and Morkel were involved in two of the silliest run-outs of the summer.
Amla was left stranded on 116 not out, having used up 132 balls and hit nine fours.
For India Munaf Patel was once more outstanding with the ball, finishing with 3/50, though Piyush Chawla, a replacement for Ashish Nehra, bowled an enterprising spell, which though wicketless saw him show great variety as he conceded 32 runs in seven overs. – The Star