South Africa v India, 1st ODI, Durban January 12, 2011

Beating the middle-over blues

AB de Villiers and JP Duminy were not content to take singles in the middle period of the innings and made a statement by taking the Powerplay after just 27 overs

When JP Duminy joined AB de Villiers at the crease with South Africa 82 for 3 in 13.3 overs, it could easily have been time for an afternoon siesta. It's not necessarily the two batsmen at the crease who might have acted as dream catchers, but the start of a particular period in ODI cricket matches, coupled with the situation South Africa were in, that would have prompted the lullabies.

Usually the time between overs 15 and 40 of an ODI is similar to an episode of a television soap opera: you can come back after an extended break from watching and still know exactly what's going on. With South Africa three wickets down after a start that was high on ecstasy, the middle overs could well have proved to be the downer.

Hashim Amla gave South Africa an ideal start. He played a few risky shots but was also handsomely rewarded by poor bowling from India and was allowed to race to a half-century. Amla was punishing everything, using every tool at his disposal. He pulled, drove, glanced and sometimes just smashed, paying almost no attention to the shocking shots that both Graeme Smith and Colin Ingram played that led to their downfall. The start he gave South Africa was frenetic and when he got out it was a time for everyone to catch their breath and reassess.

That was when JP Duminy walked in and with not much in the way of recognised batsmen left in the line-up it was a time for caution. Duminy and de Villiers had to adopt a safe approach to ensure that South Africa did not crumble.

They could have done exactly what Jacques Kallis did in the 2007 World Cup group stage match against Australia. South Africa were chasing 378 to win the game in St Kitts and Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers gave them a blazing start, getting to 160 for 1 in the 21st over. de Villiers was run out and Smith went off with cramps and that was Kallis' cue to turn to stone. For no apparent reason, he went into defensive mode, playing the same bowlers who had been battered around the small West Indian ground with far too much watchfulness and respect. By the time he was out, South Africa were 277 for 7 and had just under seven overs left to score 101 runs. Of course, they haven't approached the middle-overs quite so passively since, but it serves as an example of how sombre that period can be.

Luckily, Duminy did not bring a middle-overs mindset to the crease with him. He understood that a small period of introspection was required and he and de Villiers spent a few overs watching and assessing. The two then began to play a cat and mouse game with the India bowlers, turning the strike quickly and easily while settling into a comfortable five-runs-per-over pattern. They would have almost been expected to carry on like that for as long as they could.

The pair were playing Harbhajan Singh particularly effectively, and in the 26th over, a statement of intent was made. de Villiers connected bat with ball so well that what looked like a mistimed shot ended up going over the straight boundary for six. In the next over, Duminy announced his authority with a six off Yuvraj Singh. Instead of simply enjoying the two big hits, South Africa carried to completion their positivity. In the next over, they took the Batting Powerplay.

de Villiers and Duminy scored 45 runs in the five Powerplay overs, taking the run-rate from 5.48 to 6.03 by the time it was over. They had managed to up the scoring rate significantly without looking as though they were stretching themselves to any great degree. They were helped by some poor bowling and fielding but that doesn't overshadow the refreshing way in which South Africa dealt with the middle overs. With two established batsmen in the middle, they didn't stash away the Powerplay for the end, instead using it when its effect could be maximised.

With de Villiers and Duminy at the crease, South Africa looked set to post a score in excess of 320. Both of them were dismissed and the total ended up falling short of 300. In the end, those 30-odd runs didn't matter at all; neither did the fact that the batsmen after Duminy all failed to impress. The approach and the attitude from the two in the middle had set the tone for an emphatic South African victory. There are still questions that need answering. David Miller has been unreliable and if Johan Botha and Wayne Parnell both fail with the bat, the tail gets too long. It means South Africa still have a soft underbelly to deal with, but if their upperbelly holds them up as it did in Durban that may not be too serious a concern.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent