In Twenty20 cricket, it is often the last few overs of each innings that change games, and are hence more analysed. It is less frequent that wickets in the Powerplay seal a game's fate. Runs scored in a Powerplay that decide a match is even rarer. India scored 125 runs in their last 14 overs, South Africa 134 in theirs, and they did so despite losing wickets in desperate attempts to score quickly. And yet South Africa lost by a big margin.
It was a match decided in the period of play when South Africa's least experienced players went up against India's most experienced ones. Debutant Junior Dala and Dane Paterson, playing only in his sixth T20I, wouldn't even have been part of a full-strength South Africa side.
Be that as it may, South Africa won the toss and asked for this contest upfront. Two newcomers against a top four that has individually led their batting units in the IPL. What you hope for at these times is well-set plans and spot-on execution. In ran Paterson to start the game with two men back on the leg side and no third man. Rohit Sharma saw one ball, and crunched the second - short and wide outside off - right where third man would have been. Later in the first over, Rohit showed those two men on the hook make no difference on a small ground, comfortably clearing them with a short-arm jab. The next ball he bunted over the infielders on the off side, knowing that's all he had to do to get four.
Dala, with the novelty of his wrong-footed action wearing off, bowled short and wide second ball, and Rohit accepted the same offer to third man. Dala did get a wicket with a straight short ball, primarily because Rohit tried to manufacture something out of the ordinary. In came Raina, and for one ball South Africa had a third man for him. Right after, South Africa went back to bowling short without a third man in place. Raina saw it coming, it was not express pace, and it was deposited over midwicket.
Thirty-nine of the 78 runs in India's Powerplay, with three sixes and four fours, came behind square on the off side. As a plan, you could understand why South Africa did. They were the weakened side, they needed to do something exceptional to take early wickets. "The plan was to try and take wickets," JP Duminy said. "I felt if we were in that position, we were in a strong position, especially at a venue like this. I wasn't too unhappy, the mindset and plan was an aggressive one which was to try and take wickets and with that, there are going to be times when you leak a few boundaries."
In the end, India scored 78, and had lost a wicket lesser than the minimum South Africa wanted. It is easy to think South Africa didn't get the memo that India are currently playing the short ball well. It is not the case. A well-executed bouncer can be difficult for any batsman in the world. It is slightly higher risk but South Africa felt they needed to take the risk to bridge the gap between the two sides. Just that Paterson and Dala kept providing them the width required to exploit the absence of a third man.
"To be honest I don't think they have played it very well," Duminy said. "It is going to come down to the execution of our skill. If we execute a plan well, it's potentially going to work, but unfortunately with our plans in place, we didn't execute as well as we'd have liked. I still believe and feel the plans are good, but especially when it's a shorter format you have to execute well. Unfortunately there were few missed opportunities throughout the innings. But we'll definitely come back stronger. I firmly believe that."
Were they asking too much of their young bowlers to bowl short and give no room to the batsmen? "They are inexperienced in terms of international cricket, but they are very experienced in terms of domestic cricket and what they have done at domestic level," Duminy said. "They have a high standard in terms of their execution, but I'm not blaming that.
"At the end of the day the batting has been our main Achilles heel throughout the series and that's something we have to take on board. You will leak runs in this format, so even though we went for 200, from the way we started to the way we came back there are lots of positives to take."
South Africa could have asked Chris Morris to open the bowling for this plan, and used Paterson towards the end, a role he is more accustomed to. T20 is a format which bridges the gap between sides: South Africa were not behind in the last 14 overs of either innings. It will be interesting to see, in this light, if South Africa persist with the plan or tamper it.