Proteas: Chastened (again!) by India chase

Virat Kohli (Getty)
Virat Kohli (Getty)

Cape Town – Another season, and in another country.

But India are developing an ominous – at least if you are South African – little habit of making mincemeat of chasing requirements in one-day internationals against the Proteas.

For the second time in as many bilateral ODI meetings and albeit eight months apart, frontline Indian batsmen (the demonstrative, increasingly wondrous Virat Kohli to the fore each time) have romped their way to lopsided triumphs over these foes.

If there was any consolation to be banked from SA’s six-wicket reverse with 27 balls to spare in the first of six ODIs at Kingsmead on Thursday, it wasn’t as bloody – believe it or not -- as the last occasion.

Then, in a final group-phase encounter at The Oval in the ICC Champions Trophy of June last year, the Proteas were tamely bundled out of the tournament (an extension of their multinational jamboree hoodoo, of course) by the eventual losing finalists, India prevailing by eight wickets with as many as 12 full overs in hand.

In that London tussle, South Africa had managed a badly sub-standard total of 191 all out in 44.3 overs, and Shikhar Dhawan (78) and Kohli (76 not out) then rendered it a dubious spectacle if you were a neutral wishing to witness a nail-biter.

It was, mercifully, a tad closer in Durban, although the Proteas’ score this time of 269 for eight was still, by candid admission of captain Faf du Plessis, “50 to 70 short” of what was probably required in the conditions.

Up to the 43rd over of the chase, however, a carbon copy of that victory margin last year had seemed a worrisome likelihood … give SA their due, they didn’t completely run up the white flag and at least managed to dismiss both key tormentors, Kohli (112) and Ajinkya Rahane (79) before the inevitable reading of last rites for them.

Still, as a sobering indicator of India’s mastery, a certain MS Dhoni – he of 9,902 ODI runs at 51 and their finishing maestro of a slightly earlier phase in their history – took guard with only eight further runs required and heaps of time to apply the closing touches.

Considering that this was India’s incredible 10th victory in 11 ODIs as the second-strike side, it is probably safe to submit that, regardless of what sort of pitch is presented or the atmospheric conditions look like on the day, home fans at SuperSport Park on Sunday and the bulk of the Proteas players themselves will be hoping quite fervently that South Africa are the ones hunting a target there.

There will also, naturally, be increased pressure on the hosts to pull one back quickly in the generous-length series because, as things stand, four wins from the next five clashes are required if SA are to actually win their ninth successive home ODI series.

The ease of India’s triumph in Durban already makes it pretty clear that the Proteas’ A-game is required in a hurry if that mission is to be accomplished.

It is difficult to say with any special conviction, for instance, that the South African attack – their main five bowlers at Kingsmead were exactly the same ones who had taken part in the humiliation at The Oval – will, at the snap of the fingers at Centurion, turn the tables dramatically in their scrap with India’s ace stroke-players.

I have seen previous Proteas limited-overs bowling line-ups look worse, yet get better rewards, so some element of psychological unease may already have taken minor root.

With the very glowing exception of Du Plessis, who played both Indian seam and wrist spin alike in cool-headed, authoritative fashion on Thursday en route to his own century, the Proteas’ recognised batting also wasn’t anything to write home about.

All of Aiden Markram, David Miller and JP Duminy came up short both technically and mentally on the day against the intriguingly unorthodox wiles of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, and the only blessing of these middle-order woes was that it forced Chris Morris and Andile Phehlukwayo, generally more used to big-hitting duties nearer the climax, to show the more gumption-conscious sides of their batting armouries quite pleasingly for a while.

As with the Test team over the past few weeks, you got the feeling in Durban that, while certain individuals are producing sublime periods of cricket, the Proteas need further work on their cohesion, consistency and polish as a collective.

But remember also that this slightly galling loss snapped a praiseworthy streak of 17 home ODI victories in a row: all good things, as they say, come to an end, and that blissful run is also a reminder that the Proteas are highly unlikely to have become shorter-form mugs overnight.

Roll on another full house on Sunday …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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