Heads shaking after SA slump to third loss of India ODI series
History shook its head in disbelief at Aiden Markram after he won the toss in the third one-day international at Newlands on Wednesday.
By the end of the match, which India won by 124 runs to take an unassailable 3-0 lead in the six-match series, many more heads were shaking.
Nevermind Murphy’s law, Zuma’s law was rampant in South Africa’s camp: whenever the opportunity to do the wrong thing presented itself, they took it.
That’s not to lay everything that went wrong for the home side on Wednesday at the door of a 23-year-old who played his third ODI and his second as captain.
Instead South Africans deserve answers from the dressingroom full of more senior figures, players and coaches alike, who looked down on the unfolding disappointment.
Maybe South Africa fielded first because India had won the first two games chasing, or because their wrist spinners, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, might struggle in skiddy evening conditions.
The lore of the difficulties of batting under lights at Newlands is known to every cricketminded 10-year-old.
So, even though the 1pm start meant the match was scheduled to end only 14 minutes after sunset, why tempt fate?
The facts, moreover, backed up the lore.
Of the 29 previous day/night ODIs at Newlands, all of which were completed, six had been won by the team who fielded first.
Once in the four games in which the captain who won the toss in a Newlands day/nighter chose to field had his team gone on to win.
And yet South Africa opted to give India first strike, an invitation they took up with enthusiasm — none more so than Virat Kohli, who was an imperious presence at the crease throughout his unbeaten 160, his second century of the rubber and the driving force behind his team scoring 303/6.
Neither of South Africa’s new-ball bowlers was Morne Morkel, who has taken 13 wickets in his four ODIs at Newlands at an average of 10.92, an economy rate of 3.8 and a strike rate of 17.2.
Morkel hasn’t come close to achieving that kind of success at any of South Africa’s other regular venues for ODIs.
Neither had Kagiso Rabada, Chris Morris and Andile Phehlukwayo, who between them had taken 9/278 in their previous ODIs in Cape Town.
Morkel’s omission, which was not explained before or during the match, was felt almost immediately.
Kagiso Rabada began the match from the Wynberg End with five bristling deliveries that gave Rohit Sharma nowhere to go.
The sixth took the edge of the indecisive Sharma’s bat and gave debutant wicketkeeper-batsman Heinrich Klaasen a simple first dismissal.
But that wasn’t the script at the Kelvin Grove End, where another debutant in the format, Lungi Ngidi, struggled to give of his best.
Shikhar Dhawan hit Ngidi’s first delivery through the covers for four, which set the tone for a wicketless four-over spell that cost 29 runs. Rabada finished his fine first five overs with 1/15.
Dhawan and Kohli were together, mostly without incident, until the 24th over, when Markram held a leaping catch at short midwicket to end the stand at 140.
The bowler was JP Duminy, who bowled his quota of overs for the fifth time in his 182 ODIs, and for the first time since 2013.
Duminy returned at the fall of the first wicket to score a fluent 51, his first half-century for South Africa across the formats in 24 innings and since last February.
There was still more history in the fact that Imran Tahir ended a spell of 137 ODI deliveries without taking a wicket when he had MS Dhoni caught on the long-on boundary in the 42nd over.
But Kohli had come to bat, not be part of a pub quizz, and he reeled in the runs with peerless zeal.
Rabada bowled the last over and was smacked for 15, most of them when Kohli lifted him over midwicket for six and followed that by smoking the last ball of the innings past the bowler’s despairing lunge and through extra cover for four.
South Africa lost Hashim Amla to the seventh ball of their reply and when Duminy went in the 22nd over they were 95/4 and on the skids on their way to a total of 179.
They lost 3/16 and then 5/50, and those two little pals of all who hanker after quality spin, Chahal and Yadav, took 8/69 between them.
That gives them 21 of the 27 South Africa wickets that have fallen to bowlers in the three matches. They average 9.05 in the series.
At 7.48pm, with the sky still bluish and four of South Africa’s wickets still standing, the electronic scoreboard told the crowd of 14 513, “The bars are now closed.”
Little wonder heads were shaking: thousands could have used a drink.