Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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South Africa 140 for 1 (de Kock 79*, Reeza 28, Bavuma 27*) beat India 134 for 9 (Dhawan 36, Rabada 3-39, Beuran 2-14, Fortuin 2-19) by nine wickets
Testing left-arm seam from Beuran Hendricks, making his first appearance of the series, and a breezy half-century from Quinton de Kock led South Africa to a series-levelling nine-wicket win at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. The victory was emphatic, arriving with 3.1 overs still left to play, but South Africa's cause was aided by India's strategy, which was drawn up with one eye on next year's T20 World Cup.
No team had ever chosen to bat first in six previous T20Is at this ground, but India did so. They did so, Virat Kohli said, because they wanted to improve on their weaker suit - setting targets and defending them. "Come the World Cup," he said, "toss is not in your control."
On an evening where conditions changed significantly at the innings break, the toss turned out to be quite significant. Dew came into play particularly during the second innings, and batting became easier. Even so, de Kock was in terrific form, and there was little India's bowlers could do to stop him. All the trademark shots - the pull, the flat-bat slaps over the covers, the pick-up shot over backward square leg - were in evidence as he ran to an unbeaten 79 off 52 balls, with Reeza Hendricks and Temba Bavuma slipping neatly into his slipstream in partnerships of 76 and 64 (unbroken) for the first two wickets.
India could have had de Kock when he missed a sweep off Washington Sundar's offspin on 28, and had a confident lbw appeal turned down by umpire Nitin Menon. Ball-tracking suggested that the ball would have gone on to hit a good chunk of leg stump, but India had wasted their review in the previous over, when a Deepak Chahar hit Reeza's front pad with a delivery that would definitely have missed leg stump.
That appeal apart, India didn't seem to have any real ideas to dismiss de Kock or even tie him down. Two of India's less experienced bowlers, Navdeep Saini and Krunal Pandya, had off-days, going for a combined 65 in 5.5 overs, and Hardik Pandya - who took the only wicket - went for 23 in two overs as de Kock punished anything remotely short.
In the past, India have often adopted a conservative, ODI-inflected approach that has hurt them against teams with more hitting depth. In this series, their selection has emphasised batting depth, with three spin-bowling allrounders at Nos. 7, 8 and 9. With this cushion below them, the top order seemed to be under instructions to go after the bowling and not worry too much about preserving wickets.
The new approach helped them get off to an excellent start, with Shikhar Dhawan looking full of purpose, moving around the crease or stepping out of it, to try and put bowlers off their lengths and exploit the Powerplay restrictions. It was most evident in the sixth over, against the left-arm wristspin of Tabraiz Shamsi. Mid-on was initially inside the circle, and Dhawan stepped out and hit a six over that fielder. Mid-on dropped back, long-off became mid-off, and Dhawan launched the next ball over the new man in the 30-yard circle.
When Dhawan fell for 36 off 25 in the eighth over - Beuran Hendricks had earlier dismissed Rohit Sharma for the third time in only four balls in all T20 cricket - India seemed well placed at 63 for 2.
But the pitch was beginning to change perceptibly, with the ball no longer coming on with the shine off, and South Africa's bowlers were beginning to find ways to exploit it. There was turn for spinners Shamsi and Bjorn Fortuin, and the seamers began varying their pace regularly and bowling into the surface. Run-scoring became a struggle, and the big hits stopped carrying.
Between them, Nos. 3 to 8 - Kohli, Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer, the Pandya brothers, and Ravindra Jadeja - made 70 off 85 balls. Beuran was particularly impressive with his left-arm seam, getting the ball to move off the seam and extracting steep bounce. He finished with figures of 2 for 14 in four overs. India only scored 58 in their last 10 overs, and South Africa were well on their way to squaring the series.
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