de Villiers and Kallis inspire consolation win
AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis hit contrasting centuries to build on the platform laid by the openers Hashim Amla and Loots Bosman to charge South Africa to an imposing 365 which proved beyond the reach of the inexperienced Indian batting line-up in the third ODI in Ahmedabad. Bosman was feisty, Amla was elegant, de Villiers was destructive and Kallis and well ... Kallis - solid as ever. Together, the top order blasted South Africa to their highest score against India and helped avoid a clean sweep.
It was de Villiers who played the most aggressive knock of the innings and it showcased his skill in picking gaps. The pitch was flat and India populated the on side, be it for spin or seam, and tried to force him to make mistakes while going for inside-out drives but he never erred. The bat swing was clean, the head was still and for the main part, he was looking to off drive and when the bowlers tried to cramp him with the alteration in line, he pinged the on side with five fours and two sixes.
It was simple in its thought and complex in its execution but he pulled it off without seemingly breaking into a sweat. The best shot was probably a nonchalant inside-out lofted cover drive against Ravindra Jadeja, though there were two really sweetly timed peachy off drives off Sreesanth that stood out for its classy elegance. He reached his hundred with a six and a four off Rohit Sharma in the final over of the innings.
While de Villiers indulged himself right from the start, it was Kallis who provided the necessary glue to hold the innings together in the middle overs. It was a typical Kallis innings; you didn't remember a stand-out shot in the first half of his knock and yet, he had reached his fifty from 68 balls with just one boundary. He dealt in nudges, pushes and gentle drives as he ensured South Africa held wickets intact for the fun in the end. As expected, he opened-up post fifty to muscle quite a few boundaries and overran de Villiers in the end with some clean hits. In the penultimate over, he crashed Sreesanth to the straight boundary before lifting him imperiously over long-off to bring up a very well-paced hundred.
Before the de Villiers and Kallis show, it was a tango between Amla and Bosman that set up South Africa for the big total. If Amla applied the calm touch, Bosman provided the initial momentum at the top of the innings with a fiery cameo. If you had to pick a word to catch the spirit of Bosman's innings, it would have to be thump. It was filled with several crunchy blows but what really caught the eye was that he never went across the line. There were 11 boundaries in all but his first boundary, perhaps, was the sweetest of them all. He was just on 1 and the confidence to go for the big aerial hits hadn't yet sunk in and he just leaned forward to play a gorgeously timed on-the-up drive past Sreesanth.
If Bosman thumped, Amla was all wristy elegance. He seemingly wristed even those on-the-up punchy shots through the off side where other batsmen would have used their arm a lot more but his best shot was a flicked boundary off Sreesanth - it was a short-of-length delivery on the off stump but Amla used the length to wrist it to the square-leg boundary. Unlike in the last ODI where the stiff target didn't allow him to pace his innings properly, he showed better judgement today: he sensed Bosman's confidence was on the rise and started to rotate the strike around and when Bosman fell, he realised he had to stay on for a big innings and started to work the angles for the singles.
For their part India realised that pace, especially considering their inexperienced seamers, was not the way to go on this track and relied on the slow bowlers. But the inexperience of the attack proved too costly in the end. And when they chased, they could never get the momentum required to hunt down such a big target.
The ball stopped occasionally on the dry pitch in the second half and the bowling was disciplined, without looking overtly threatening, but the pressure of the big target induced the mistakes from the inexperienced batting line-up. Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma lifted India from 40 for 2 with a 95-run partnership but the run rate was slow. Roelf van der Merwe combined with Morne Morkel and Johan Botha to slip in a slew of tight overs and both batsmen couldn't break free. The run rate climbed and Dale Steyn used the resultant pressure to take out a couple of wickets. Though Suresh Raina later threw his bat around to collect a few boundaries, India were never really in the chase.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo