Cape Town — Dinesh Karthik won the Player of the Match award in India’s very first T20I way back in 2006 when Graeme Smith was still the leader of the Proteas.
Sixteen years later Karthik picked up another at Rajkot on Friday evening, with Smith in the commentary booth, after striking his maiden T20I half-century to set up a series finale with the Proteas in Bangalore on Sunday.
The veteran, who is enjoying a new lease of life since being transformed into a ‘finisher’ at his new IPL franchise Royal Challengers Bangalore, showed all the skills he has learnt over the years in an exhilarating batting display that proved to be the catalyst for India’s 82-run win.
The Proteas had been in control of proceedings until Karthik (55 off 27 balls, 9x4, 2x6) joined local IPL-winning skipper Hardik Pandya at the crease. India were 81/4 after 12.5 overs at that stage with Lungi Ngidi and T20I debutant Marco Jansen setting the tone upfront for the visitors in their first appearance of the series.
The duo had been called up after Kagiso Rabada and Wayne Parnell were ruled out through injury prior to the toss. It all seemed to be going according to plan with only Ishan Khan (27 off 26 balls) really striking the ball with any fluency before he was caught behind off Anrich Nortje.
But just when South Africa needed to drive home their advantage to close out the Indian innings, the visitors allowed their hosts to creep back into the game. An earlier drop catch was the chance Pandya needed to break the shackles as he struck Tabraiz Shamsi for two successive sixes immediately after the let-off.
This forced captain Temba Bavuma to haul his World No 3 wrist-spinner out of the attack, which meant the death overs were now going to be shared between Keshav Maharaj, Ngidi and Dwaine Pretorius.
It proved to be fatal for the Proteas with Karthik and Pandya (46 off 31 balls) smashing a 65-run partnership off just 33 balls. Karthik, in particular, showed a clear gameplan against Pretorius with the little right-hander jumping over to off-stump before sweeping the medium-pacer over square-leg for a flurry of boundaries. It was fitting that Karthik brought up his fifty with a slog over mid-wicket for six with another shuffle across his stumps.
South Africa conceded 73 runs off the last five overs, with the seamers not adjusting to the conditions adequately, which ultimately proved fatal.
India, in contrast, adapted accordingly from the outset. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been spectacular with the new-ball for India throughout, and he once again transferred the pressure early on.
Instead of utilising slower balls like the South Africans attempted, Kumar hit traditional hard lengths and in addition to his natural swing was almost impossible to get away.
The rest of the Indian attack followed Kumar’s copybook with Avesh Khan (4/18) and Harshal Patel switching from their customary plans, while the spinners Axar Patel and Yuzvendra Chahal tightened the noose during the middle overs.
From the moment Bavuma left the middle with a suspected elbow injury forcing him to retire, it was downhill for South Africa with no batter being able to negotiate the conditions.
A terrible mix-up between the returning Quinton de Kock and Pretorius did not help South Africa’s chances either with De Kock left helpless in the middle of the pitch.
From being in total command of the series with a 2-0 lead, South Africa now have only a few days to come up with new plans to prevent India from completing a memorable comeback.
India: 169/6 (Karthik 55, Pandya 46, Ngidi 2/20)
South Africa: 87 all (Van der Dussen 20, Khan 4/18, Chahal 2/21)
India won by 82 runs, series level at 2-2