In the 16th over of India's defence, Yuzvendra Chahal finally veered off his plans. All through the series India's spinners have been saying they don't mind being hit for sixes. You hit them for one, and they come back with even slower and loopier deliveries. This time it was different, though. He had just been dropped many rows back by AB de Villiers. It's easy to say you can keep flighting it against other batsmen, but de Villiers is different. The next ball, for the first time in this series, drew a defensive reaction from an India spinner. It was short, the trajectory was flat, the pace was high, and de Villiers sent it back where it had just come from.
You can't be too harsh on Chahal here. He was operating in the worst-case scenario. His captain - despite a forecast for rain - had chosen to bat, the ball was wet and skidding off the surface, the chase had turned into a T20 innings, he was bowling to a tiny leg-side boundary, the Pink Day crowd was "ballistic" in the words of Heinrich Klaasen, and de Villiers looked in form.
It's not like this was the first time Chahal had found himself in such a situation, but, on such a stage, under pressure from the situation and the conditions, a survival instinct kicked in. Against another batsman, David Miller, Chahal was back to bowling slow and looking for the wicket. He got him thrice, but Miller was first dropped, then bowled off a no-ball and finally lbw. Even in these circumstances, Chahal went at a run a ball against Miller, whose overall strike rate in the innings nudged 140.
Against Klaasen, who innovated with reverse hits and aimed at the short boundary, Chahal tried what he has done to big hitters before: bowl wide, just within the tram lines, making them drag their hits across. On the night, though, Chahal didn't have that control - again the wet ball plays a part - and Klaasen too got the better of him, mainly by targeting the tiny leg-side boundary.
It was a sobering night for the spinners, but also one in which they were thrown into the deep end. As Chahal saw Andile Phehlukwayo end the chase with a six, Shikhar Dhawan gave Chahal a bit of a hug. Dhawan, who had scored a hundred earlier, knew it had been a tough night for both their match-winning spinners, who went for 119 runs between them in 11.3 overs.
Dhawan said the decision to bat first was made based on the conditions in the evening in Johannesburg. "We thought in the evening, because of the breeze the ball swings a bit," Dhawan said. "The wicket gets faster as the deck got hard. Of course it had extra bounce too. Unfortunately it rained, and that made a bit of a difference."
Asked what were the deliberations against the forecast, Dhawan said: "See I'm not the captain. I didn't see the forecast. The captain or the team management may have seen."
The wet ball was not the end of the woes for the spinners. Virat Kohli as a captain is slightly different to others. He likes to save his best bowlers for the last whereas other captains try to break open games with their main bowlers. On the night, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah were the main bowlers because the spinners were struggling to grip it. It makes strange reading that both the spinners bowled more than the mainstream quicks. In the end the three overs of Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar, kept in the bank for those close final overs, were wasted.
It is not as if it always backfires. When New Zealand looked on track, for example, to chase down India's 337 in Kanpur last year, Bumrah bowled overs 46, 48 and 50 and won India the match even thought it had seemed earlier that the overs bowled by Chahal and Hardik Pandya were already putting matters beyond a Bumrah spell.
On the night, hampered as they were by having bowled four overs each of Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah when rain arrived, it must have started with Kohli wanting to get rid of others' overs before making it Bumrah v the batsmen, but as the asking rate became easier, Bumrah had to be brought back to bowl one of his two remaining overs. However, Kohli went back to spin for the next two overs, finishing the game there itself.
Dhawan said it might have become too much to ask of Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar by then, and only a roll of the dice would have worked. "That time captain would have thought that they were taking chances against the spinners," Dhawan said. "That time we needed wickets. Because the wicket was such and the ground was wet, we couldn't have won by just defending the runs. Wickets were very important. So captain thought the spinners could take the wickets. Sometimes you take risk; it pays off sometimes, it doesn't pay off sometime."
Dhawan only had words of encouragement for the spinners. "See of course they are young guys, they have done very well, more than well for us," he said. "Anyone can have a s**t day, you know? These two spinners have won three games for us. My support is always with them. Any one can have a bad day. Sometimes luck favours the opposition too and not just our side.
"It favoured Miller, and he took it with both hands and he smacked lots of boundaries and the momentum changed. It's not a thing that happens every time. Like our spinners don't often bowl no-balls. Even if they get hit, they will learn lot of things. It is important to go through failures too to learn in your life. It's just one loss, man. We've already won three games, so one more game and we're through."
Overall, on a tough night for the spinners, when no attempt was made to protect them, they stuck to their guns against some, and made some errors against others. No one could have had a perfect night as a spinner in these conditions. What happened on the night should make the team reflect on their decision at the toss, their middle order's batting, some of the bowling changes... But, for the spinners, what happened should matter much less than how they come back from this.