Two balls remaining in India’s innings and Virat Kohli stood at the non-striker’s end on 49. Dinesh Karthik walked up to his batting partner to enquire if a single off the next ball would be fine. Kohli turned back immediately and waved off Karthik’s request as if to say ‘I don’t care about a fifty, just finish well.’
Karthik added a six and a bye off the final two to take India’s total to 237/3, their highest in T20Is against South Africa. Runs mattered for Kohli irrespective of where they came from. As it turned out, Karthik’s two sixes and a four off that final over were the difference after the visitors fell 16 runs short off the target in Guwahati.
For the people at Barsapara Stadium, this was their first international match in almost three years and they got their fill just by the midway point. Suryakumar Yadav reached a landmark 1000 T20I runs in 31 innings and was dictating which crevice of the field the ball should go through.
KL Rahul dusted off the criticism about his strike rate by blasting away 57 off 28 balls at 203.57 -- his third fifty in the last five matches. Kohli seems to be his happiest self looking at the way he hugged Suryakumar after just scoring a boundary.
The wholesomeness of the Indian batting unit was adequate for a win when David Miller evoked the spirit of Yusuf Pathan’s counter-attacking 105 at Centurion in 2011. His side was limping at 47/3, Quinton de Kock was surviving on dropped catches, but Miller was barely troubled.
He knew the terrain all too well after spending three months of IPL 2022 contributing to Gujarat Titans’ title win. His 481 runs from 16 matches in that tournament were his ticket to South Africa’s World Cup plans.
Among the five bowlers India used on Sunday, only Harshal Patel was able to dismiss Miller twice in the 22 T20s he has played in India this year. This this period, he had batted at a strike rate above 144 against all of them.
Muscling the ball has always been Miller’s strongest suit and the flat pitch obliged. When lured by Ravichandran Ashwin’s tossed-up deliveries, the southpaw put his immense power behind his slog sweeps and swats straight down the ground. When Deepak Chahar and Harshal went for the wide yorkers, he carved open spaces on the offside. It was the same imposing mindset he had showcased in his stunning 94 not out against Chennai Super Kings in April when Gujarat were reeling at 16/3.
Miller’s confidence rubbed off on de Kock, who got his act together after hopscotching to 32 off 33 balls by the 14th over. It was full-blown mayhem from then onwards as the duo plundered 96 runs off the final six overs. But a drab powerplay meant the target was always at an arm’s length from South Africa.
The South African team management seems have understood Miller’s devastating ability batting at No.5 – a position where he has scored 200 runs from five T20I innings this year at a strike rate of 200. His first T20I hundred against Bangladesh in 2017 had also come in that position.
On a personal level, Miller is enjoying his career’s best year. After winning the IPL title in May, the 33-year old was named captain of the Barbados Royals, who went from bottom dwellers of CPL 2021 to becoming the runner's up in 2022 few days ago. He was also one of the marquee signings of Paarl Royals and will captain the team in the inaugural SA20 next year.
Sunday's match belonged to the batters, specifically from the home team. Bowlers on both sides had little to work with as India’s powerplay did the trick to win the match and seal the series. For the Proteas, they can still bank on Miller's supreme confidence which is certain to carry forward.