Cape Town – The Proteas arrived in India as genuine contenders for the ICC T20 Cup championship belt that will be up for grabs in Australia later this month.
Coach Mark Boucher pushed out his chest prior to the series about how his team boasted the best win percentage in T20I cricket for the past two years, and that selecting the best XI from a power-packed squad was his biggest conundrum.
But after going two rounds with Rohit Sharma’s heavyweights, the Proteas have been left with a nosebleed as they watched their previously unbeaten T20 record in India being torn up.
David Miller, who became South Africa’s highest-ever T20I run-scorer, did his best to lift them off the canvas with a marvellous 106 not out off 47 balls. Quinton de Kock also returned to form with 69 not out off 48 balls, but their undefeated 174-run partnership for the fourth wicket was just not enough.
This was because of the Proteas’ bowling unit being off-colour. In Thiruvananthapuram it was the batsmen who were blown away. At Guwahati it was the turn of bowlers to be dispatched to all parts as India closed out the series with a game still to play.
The decision to omit the No 2 T20 bowler Tabraiz Shamsi backfired tremendously. South Africa opted for a four-man pace attack with Lungi Ngidi returning to the starting line-up at the expense of Shamsi.
This proved hazardous for the visitors, with the quartet consisting of Kagiso Rabada (0/57), Wayne Parnell (0/54), Ngidi (0/49) and Anrich Nortje (0/41) leaking 201 runs in 15 overs at rate of 13.4 without picking up a wicket.
In contrast, South Africa’s sole spinner Keshav Maharaj produced a brilliant spell of 2/23 from his allotted four overs that helped restrict India to a mammoth 237/3.
India’s destroyers were Suryakumar Yadav, arguably the most in-form T20 batsman in the world at the moment, with a whirlwind 61 off 22 balls (5×4, 5×6) and Virat Kohli (49 not out off 28 balls).
But they were only able to produce their fireworks exhibition after Sharma (43 off 37 balls) and KL Rahul (57 off 28 balls) had set the tone upfront.
If India’s top-order batsmen provided the template on how to take down a bowling attack, then South Africa are loitering in dangerous territory. For the second consecutive game they have lost both captain Temba Bavuma and Rilee Rossouw for ducks, which in turn places the rest of the batting order under severe pressure.
The contrasting nature of their dismissals also leave a lot to be desired. Bavuma was caught at mid-off with a seven-ball nought, which is virtually criminal with his team in pursuit of a record 238.
The fact that Bavuma played out the opening over of the chase for a maiden showed not just how rusty the skipper still is after his injury lay-off, but also how out of touch he is with the brand of T20 cricket required to be successful at the Cup in Australia.
Rossouw, meanwhile, looks to transfer the pressure back on to the bowler through his aggressive stroke-play, but he is not giving himself a chance to assess the conditions, with pitches around the world not all as batter-friendly as his Taunton home ground.
It was a real struggle for De Kock to create any momentum from the outset, but the wicket-keeper has seemingly played himself back into form with his first half-century in 13 innings by simply remaining at the crease for a lengthy period of time.
And while he and Miller were together they had some hope of pulling off a miracle, but ultimately the task was just too large, especially with the first over of the chase being played out as a maiden by Bavuma.
With the Proteas having just one official T20I and a couple of warm-up games in Australia before their Cup campaign kick-off in Hobart on October 24, they will at least take solace from the fact that De Kock has found his groove again.
In a series where virtually everything has gone wrong, the Proteas will hang on to this like gold dust.
India 237/3 (Yadav 61, Rahul 57, Kohli 49*, Sharma 43, Maharaj 2/23)
South Africa 221/3 (Miller 106*, De Kock 69*, Markram 33)
India won by 16 runs, win series 2-0