“To be honest, I thought 150 would have been a very good total.”
That was Ishan Kishan speaking to host broadcaster Star Sports after he helped India post 211 for 4 against South Africa in the first T20I in Delhi. The reason behind Kishan’s assessment was not only did the new ball move off the seam, but it also didn’t come onto the bat well. Even if Kishan was slightly off the mark, India’s should have been a winning total. And it looked so when South Africa were 86 for 3 after ten overs in their chase.
“When David came in,” van der Dussen revealed after the game, “I said to him, ‘You can play it as you see it but I’m pretty happy to take between 12 and 13 an over in the last ten.’ Because if you were in on this wicket, you could really capitalise. So we didn’t panic at all. We knew even if the asking rate got up to 14-15, we could use that one short boundary with the right-left combination. We knew we could target the bowlers.”
That’s exactly what they did. Miller, arguably in the form of his life, hit Harshal Patel for a four and six off successive deliveries in the 12th over. In the next over, he did one better against Axar Patel with 4, 6 and 6.
The Indian seamers had watched the first innings closely and hatched their plans accordingly, especially on how to use the slower ball. Bhuvneshwar Kumar had dismissed Temba Bavuma with one at the start of the innings, in a spell where he conceded only seven off two overs.
He tried the same tactics again when he returned in the 15th over. But by now the pitch had eased out, and Miller dispatched his back-to-back slower balls for four and six. He raced away to his half-century off just 22 balls, which meant South Africa were still very much in the game despite van der Dussen crawling along with 29 off 30 balls.
“I think I had put myself and the team under a bit of pressure by not being able to get boundaries early on in my innings,” van der Dussen said. “But it wasn’t through lack of intent, or lack of planning, or lack of clarity of mind. You know, sometimes it just doesn’t come off.”
van der Dussen was finding it difficult to time the ball. When he got the timing right, he hit it straight to the fielders. Then came the slice of luck that enabled him to convert a potentially match-losing innings into a match-winning one. With 63 needed off 29 balls, he hit Avesh Khan towards deep midwicket where Shreyas Iyer put down a regulation catch.
“When Shreyas dropped it, I knew I had to make them pay because I took the balls to get myself in,” van der Dussen said.
And he did make India pay, by smashing 45 off the next 15 balls.
With 56 required off four overs, he targeted the shorter boundary on the leg side against Harshal, who has been the death-overs specialist for Royal Challengers Bangalore for the last two IPL seasons. But it just wasn’t Harshal’s day. Bowling around the wicket, he missed his mark twice and van der Dussen duly dispatched the two full tosses over long-on and deep-backward square leg.
“I’ve been watching him a lot in the IPL, he has been brilliant,” van der Dussen said. “He has got such a good slower ball. So after getting those first two sixes away, I knew he has to go to his slower balls. But still you have to execute. It’s a very tough ball to hit as he gets a lot of dip on it. But again, he is only human and you know that at some stage, he is probably going to miss.”
After the first two balls, Harshal switched to over the wicket and tried to hide the ball outside off. But van der Dussen shuffled across and found another four and a six to tilt the game in South Africa’s favour.
“I suppose the other lesson [during the chase] was if you hit a six or two in an over, don’t let the guy get away. Keep him under pressure, keep looking for those options because an over of 20 – I think that Harshal over went for 22 – goes a long way in getting it right back under control.”
The Harshal over brought the equation down to 34 needed off 18 balls. India’s last hope was Bhuvneshwar but now with both van der Dussen and Miller striking it well, he too could do little. Miller started the over with a six and van der Dussen ended it with 6, 4, 4. As a result, what seemed like an unsurmountable target at the end of the first innings was achieved with five balls to spare.
Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo