Kohli's 35th ODI ton helps India wallop South Africa 5-1
India 206 for 2 (Kohli 129*, Rahane 34*) beat South Africa 204 (Zondo 54, Thakur 4-52) by eight wickets
Confidence and form are two of the most influential factors in batting. They often dictate timing and placement - requisites for scoring runs. South Africa have lacked both after their sub-par performances this series. Therefore, in good batting conditions in Centurion, South Africa's batsmen grappled with their own lack of confidence and India's disciplined bowling, resulting in another mediocre total. Shardul Thakur, playing his first match of the series, led another clinical display from India with figures of 4 for 52 as South Africa were bowled out for 204.
On the other end of that form spectrum lies Virat Kohli. With 429 runs in five games prior to the final ODI, Kohli was oozing confidence. Against a jaded bowling attack, and with all that belief, his 35th ODI hundred was almost a formality. It helped India coast to an eight-wicket win, and take the six-match series 5-1. Kohli finished with 558 runs in six matches, the most by a batsman in a bilateral series.
Just like in the second ODI at the same venue, South Africa began cautiously to suss out conditions early. What their openers, Hashim Amla and Aiden Markram, found was a surface that was sluggish, with strokes on the up taking the inside and outside halves of the bat. In the thin air of the Highveld and under some pressure, Amla saw an opportunity to hit Thakur over fine leg for six in the seventh over. His attempt to pull, from bottom to top to get underneath the ball, cost him a fraction of a second, and he could only strangle a leg-side delivery to the keeper.
Markram played some fluent strokes, including a well-timed six over square leg, but like in Port Elizabeth he was caught in the circle trying to force the pace. He was caught, looking to clear cover, a shot that was preceded by two languid drives off overpitched deliveries that found the same fielder.
South Africa's best period of batting followed, with AB de Villiers and Khaya Zondo attacking India's wristspinners. In the 18th over, de Villiers hit Kuldeep for three successive fours - a drive through point, an inside-edge just past the stumps, and a reverse sweep. Zondo pulled Yuzvendra Chahal for two sixes over midwicket in the next over. They had added 62 off 65 balls before de Villiers missed a straight, flat delivery, trying to cut.
Zondo and Heinrich Klaasen, after the loss of South Africa's best ODI batsman and with a fragile middle order to follow, were overly cautious, accumulating 30 in 58 balls. Klaasen then drilled a slower delivery to short cover. Farhaan Behardien, playing his first match of the series, holed out to third man in the next over. Zondo's spirited fight ended when he chipped Chahal to sweeper cover, for 54. South Africa's score hadn't progressed much since de Villiers' dismissal and their momentum had been sucked out.
Andile Phehlukwayo and Morne Morkel pleased the sparse Centurion crowd with an exciting 36-run partnership, the second-highest of the innings. Then Morkel scythed a cut to sweeper cover, and Imran Tahir and Phehlukwayo were caught off slower balls. Even though they did reasonably well against the wristspinners - scoring 89 runs for three wickets off 20 overs - South Africa fell well below the target they must have aimed at, ending up with 19 unutilised deliveries.
Fresh off a match-winning hundred, Rohit Sharma began the chase with a few exquisite cuts behind and in front of point. South Africa's short-ball ploy worked as he gloved a bouncer from Lungi Ngidi to the keeper. They persisted with that length thereafter which, on a slow pitch, was always fraught with risk.
Kohli pounced on that length. With attacking fields and the short deliveries sitting up, Kohli laid into cross-batted strokes on either side of the pitch. He blazed away to 38 off 25. Dhawan, on the other hand, struggling for timing, was 14 off 30. Dhawan's 34 ball struggle ended when he nailed a cut to backward point, for 18, South Africa's last moment of respite in an effortless chase.
Kohli and Rahane added an unbeaten 129 off just 117 balls. Rahane contributed 34 off 50 balls, playing adeptly around the belligerence of Kohli. In stark contrast to his usual mode of operation in ODIs, Kohli's ton was filled with boundaries: 19 fours and two sixes, making up 68.21% of his runs. The trouble he faced in mustering all those runs, though, was nearly zero.
Nikhil Kalro is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo