CAPE TOWN – India, even without their irrepressible captain Virat Kohli, brought the curtain down on a glorious tour of South Africa on Saturday evening in thrilling fashion.
Back where it all started under the watch of Table Mountain seven weeks ago, India won by seven runs to claim the T20 series 2-1 and head home with two of the three trophies on offer.
The fact that Kohli – who missed the Newlands finale with a lower back injury – also led his team to victory in the final Test at the Wanderers ensured the tourists have enjoyed their most profitable trip to Africa yet.
Twenty20 matches are often decided by how the powerplay unfolds. Last night was the perfect example.
Despite the impressive Junior Dala (3/35) having pinned India’s stand-in captain Rohit Sharma lbw with the ninth ball of the innings, the visitors still stormed to 57/1 after the completion of the sixth over.
The impressive Suresh Raina (43 off 27 balls, 5x4, 1x6) and Shikhar Dhawan (47 off 40 balls, 3x4) were destroyers-in-chief, with the two southpaws sharing a 65-run partnership for the second wicket as the Indians compiled 175/7 off their 20 overs.
In contrast, South Africa’s batting powerplay was a disaster.
With Jon-Jon Smuts left out of the side for debutant Christiaan Jonker, the Proteas opted to promote the out-of-form David Miller to the top of the order.
Although Reeza Hendricks’ early dismissal did not help matters, it was unforgivable that the Proteas limped to 25/1 when the fielding restrictions came to a close.
This was primarily due to Miller not being able to find the middle of his swinging blade.
The powerful left-hander looked terribly out of sorts, and although he eventually took his strike-rate to just above 100 when he eventually held out to Axar Patel on the boundary off Suresh Raina for 24 off 23 balls, the national selectors will need to go away and ponder whether Miller is indeed the man to move forward.
There certainly is a new group of contenders putting their hands up. Heinrich Klaasen has already showed what he can do throughout the summer, but now Jonker too has thrown his name into the middle-order hat.
T20 captain JP Duminy (55 off 41 balls, 2x4, 3x6) is certainly back in form after striking a second consecutive half-century that kept the home team’s fire burning.
Jonker fed off his skipper’s resolve and played with a great deal of freedom. The Warriors hitman timed the ball sweetly from the moment he came to the crease, and the right-hander had the capacity Newlands crowd on their feet until the very end.
A blistering 49 off just 24 balls (5x4, 2x6) almost stole the match – and series – from the gaping jaws of defeat, as Jonker reduced the run-rate from close to 15 runs an over to just 12 required off three balls.
But that is when India’s unsung hero of the tour, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, kept his nerve when it mattered most.
Having scuppered South Africa’s chances with both ball and bat across formats, Kumar stepped up once more to close out the game for his team with a couple of accurate yorkers.
He richly deserved the Man of the Series award that came his way.
Unlike the dismal ODI series, the Proteas have a few positives to take from the T20 clashes, but it is India who will leave Newlands with the biggest smiles.