The night at Durban was all about Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane
India came out hard in the series opener at Kingsmead and romped home with a convincing victory to take a healthy lead in the six-match series. India have been a force to be reckoned in this format and once again proved their worth with a six-wicket win against South Africa in their backyard. The solitary Test win at Johannesburg boosted India’s confidence and the side has managed to carry the momentum in the ODIs.
South Africa was always going to be a tough nut to crack in their own den and India needed to come out hard. Indian bowlers did well in restricting the star-studded South African batting to 269, but South Africa had the bowling to contain India. Indian openers provided a good start, but Rohit Sharma foundered early. Shikhar Dhawan looked in good touch, but fell short of his ground while sneaking a single. Virat Kohli was always going to be the key in this run-chase as he is a wizard when it comes to chasing.
The pressure was on the Indian captain after being involved in Dhawan’s run-out. India bat deep, but a platform was needed at the top. Kohli was lucky when the edge flew away from Faf du Plessis in the slip cordon on his very second delivery but ensured there were no more opportunities given. A team can’t afford to let Kohli get a start, he knows the art of conversion and makes the most after getting his eyes in. And Durban was no different.
Runs were difficult to come initially, but Kohli stuck around. He didn’t throw it away and the required run rate was well under check. Ajinkya Rahane was trusted with the huge responsibility of No. 4 and the stylish Mumbai-lad grabbed it both the hands. India needed a big partnership to set the stage and the duo ensured that the job was done.
At times, Rahane was finding it difficult to rotate the strike but made up for the dot balls with a boundary every now and then. One of the key features of this partnership was the running between the wickets. They sneaked singles when there wasn’t one and converted the ones into doubles. Kohli rotated the strike well and pounced on loose deliveries.
Kohli went on to score his 33rd ODI ton while Rahane notched up a fighting fifty. The duo shifted gears when needed and played some beautiful strokes throughout the innings. With the help of 10 boundaries, Kohli plundered 112 off 119 deliveries while Rahane scored 79 off 86, which contained five boundaries and couple of maximums. Kohli gets centuries at will and this outing was just a testament to his supremacy against the white ball.
South Africa ran out of options when the duo got going. They manipulated the field well and weathered the early storm to steer India to a commanding position. Kohli and Rahane accounted for a match-winning 189-run stand between them and turned the game on its head. This was also the highest third-wicket stand for India against South Africa. Rahane has now scored fifties in his last five ODI innings, his latest five outings read: 79, 61, 53, 70, 55.
Kohli has been like a rock at three, but the No.4 slot has been the only weak link in this powerful Indian batting line-up. India have experimented with as many as 10 batsmen at the said position including Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane since 2015 World Cup. The lower middle-order inspires confidence with the presence of Hardik Pandya, Kedar Jadhav and MS Dhoni, and need a solid batsman in the middle-order to provide some stability.
Kohli spoke about Rahane’s batting position ahead of the ODI series. “I had earlier said that Ajinkya Rahane will be looked at as a third opener, but that situation can change because he has batted at No. 4 in a World Cup before. These conditions are such that you get to play fast bowling throughout the innings so he becomes a strong candidate for No. 4,” Kohli told reporters before the ODI series.
“The lower middle order is more or less sorted. The combination is working well for us with Hardik and Kedar and MS rotating and batting together. No. 4 is something we have experimented with in the last couple of series. That is the only spot I can see that needs to be solidified. Otherwise, the team looks pretty balanced,” Kohli added.
Rahane’s prowess against seamers is well-known, he looks in a different zone while batting on alien soil. He did well in the Johannesburg Test, scoring 48 on a tricky track in the third innings. His confidence is certainly boosted with that outing and has managed to carry the momentum in the ODIs as well. India have quite a number of ODIs scheduled to be played on foreign soil in the upcoming time and Rahane at No. 4 could be a fruitful investment.
Rahane has been prolific at 4 and has the potential to develop into a reliable middle-order batsman. If he finds a way out to endure fewer dot deliveries, it will only enrich his game. Also, he is a specialist batsman, his presence in the middle-order provides some reassurance. As far as the series is concerned, India look red hot favourites after gaining a solid lead and will be the team to beat. They have a well-balanced side and South Africa will have to come up with a better game plan in order to tame the Indian monsters.