New Delhi, Jun 10, 2022, IANS
On a belter of a pitch at Arun Jaitley Stadium, with some help for pacers and spinners, chasing 212 was going to be an enormous task for South Africa. But the impossible was made possible by the troika of Dwaine Pretorius, David Miller and Rassie van der Dussen unleashing knocks in contrasting ways to secure a seven-wicket win and take a 1-0 lead in the five-match series.
On the eve of the match, captain Temba Bavuma had said to reporters that the pitch had become better to bat as the game progressed, as seen from their intra-squad practice match. On match day, despite occasional fumbles and asking rate touching either 12 or 13, Pretorius, Miller and van der Dussen ensured that South Africa hunted down 212 with five balls to spare.
When Bavuma fell to a leg-cutter from Bhuvneshwar Kumar, South Africa sprung a surprise by sending Pretorius at three, whose career-best knock in the format, an unbeaten 77, laced with seven fours and three sixes, came at the same position against Sri Lanka in March 2019.
Though his stay was of just 14 balls against India, Pretorius justified his move by punching Bhuvneshwar crisply through cover on his second ball.
But it was a clean slog-sweep off Yuzvendra Chahal for a huge six over cow corner that signalled Pretorius' intentions to go for the kill. He muscled Pandya for three sixes -- one over fine leg, others over mid-wicket, as South Africa soared to 60/1 in five overs.
Though he was undone by a slower, dipping full toss from Harshal Patel, Pretorius' clean strikes had done the job of giving the chase early impetus.
"Dwaine is probably one of the guys in world cricket who hits the ball hardest. If you look at his domestic as well as international statistics, number three has been the position where he's been successful at. Tonight, there was a clear instruction to go in and put the bowlers under pressure.
"With a total of that nature, you gotta almost go hard for 20 overs," said van der Dussen to reporters after the match.
"When Dwaine gets it right, it's really, really tough to bowl to him as he's a very powerful hitter of the ball. He played brilliantly and got out to a really good ball from Harshal, but he will take a lot of confidence from it going into the series and will definitely put the bowlers under pressure," added the right-hander.
At the half-way mark, South Africa needed 126 runs off the last 10 overs. It was a gettable target, mainly due to Miller's rich vein of form. Miller, coming after enjoying a prolific season in Gujarat Titans' trophy run in IPL 2022, teed off with successive boundaries off Harshal before taking four and two sixes off Axar to pave the way for South Africa's chase.
Bhuvneshwar tried to stop him with slower balls, but were duly dispatched by Miller for boundaries.
But the real game-changer for South Africa came when van der Dussen, who was struggling to time the ball, broke the toe-end of his bat and signalled for a new one. At that time, he was 22 off 25 balls and with the new bat, it seemed that the timing which deserted van der Dussen, had come back.
Luck also helped him as Shreyas Iyer spilled a catch at deep mid-wicket, giving van der Dussen life at 29 off 30 balls.
"I think I had put myself and the team under a bit of pressure by not being able to get boundaries early on in my innings. But it wasn't through lack of intent, or lack of planning, or lack of clarity of mind. You know, sometimes it just doesn't come off. When Shreyas dropped it, I knew I had to make them pay because I took the balls to get myself in," revealed van der Dussen.
Miller and van der Dussen looted 22 runs from overs 17 and 18, slamming five gigantic sixes and three crisp boundaries off Harshal and Bhuvneshwar.
Fittingly, van der Dussen finished off the chase with a reverse sweep off Chahal on the first ball of the final over to secure the highest successful chase made by South Africa in the format, with the duo sharing an unbroken stand of 131 runs for the fourth wicket.
"When David came in, I said to him, 'You can play it as you see it but I'm pretty happy to take between 12 and 13 an over in the last ten.' Because if you were in on this wicket, you could really capitalise. So, we didn't panic at all. We knew even if the asking rate got up to 14-15, we could use that one short boundary with the right-left combination. We knew we could target the bowlers," signed off van der Dussen.
In an ideal world, Pretorius wouldn't have been promoted to three if Aiden Markram wasn't down with Covid-19 and van der Dussen could have batted at three. But on Thursday, the personnel on positions shuffled, with Pretorius, Miller and van der Dussen playing chief roles in making Thursday a memorable evening for the Proteas.