2nd ODI: MS Dhoni, Axar Patel help India draw level

MS Dhoni delivered a timely reminder of his worth as an ODI batsman and Axar Patel led the way for a fresh bowling line-up as India managed to overcome a jittery batting effort by shutting out South Africa to level the series at 1-1 in Indore.

With their best bowler in R Ashwin injured and Stuart Binny and Amit Mishra dropped, India opted to bring in Axar, Harbhajan Singh and Mohit Sharma for the second ODI and each played a role in stifling the South Africans after Dhoni’s unbeaten 92 from 86 balls had set up their 247/9 from the depths of 104/5. Axar had the biggest impact, prizing out three huge wickets to finish with 3/39, his best figures in ODIs.

With a 22-run win, India have maintained their 100% record at the Holkar Stadium in their fourth trip.

In Ashwin’s absence, getting optimum out of the spinners was always going to be critical. Axar and Harbhajan delivered early blows to lift India’s mood. A wild dash at Axar did for Hashim Amla (17) while Quinton de Kock (34) danced down to Harbhajan and found long-off. With these blows, South Africa slipped to 52/2.

Suddenly, with the ball gripping and turning and two close catchers in for two new batsmen, the match was buzzing. Harbhajan flighted it, Axar varied his pace excellently while landing the ball in teasing areas. JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis pushed the ball around, sometimes excellently, sometimes fortuitously. The pair defied India for almost 15 overs, adding 82 in the process, until Duminy, on 36, missed a sweep at Axar whose nagging lines produced the fatal shot. An opening had been created.

Twelve deliveries later, du Plessis (51) made room to drive at a flighted delivery from Axar and picked out an alert Kohli at catching cover. Enter David Miller, struggling for form, who nibbled at his first delivery faced and was well taken by a diving Dhoni. Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s strike left South Africa at 142/5.

The big wicket of AB de Villiers came soon enough, after the South African captain gave a glimpse of his threat with four and six off Bhuvneshwar, when a full blooded slap was intercepted at extra cover by Kohli. Such reflex work in the field was a highlight of India’s fielding, as further embellished by another Kohli beauty to get Dale Steyn first ball of the 37th over bowled by Mohit.

This left South Africa to get 62 runs in 13.5 overs with three wickets remaining, but it proved too much. India’s bowlers mounted the pressure and, with some help from Vineet Kulkarni who incorrectly ruled Farhaan Behardien caught down the leg side off Harbhajan, the chase petered out. Bhuvneshwar snuffed out two wickets in the 43rd over to end with 3/41.

As good as that effort in the field was, India’s victory was not possible without Dhoni’s innings earlier in the day. Winning the toss on another good batting surface was a good opportunity for India to push for their first win in four matches against South Africa, but a slew of rash dismissals to pace and spin left the skipper with plenty to do. He delivered, adding 143 to the total while batting with the bowlers after India lost half their side in 24 overs.

Dhoni had walked out at No 5 following the wicket of Kohli, run out for 12 when hustling for a risky single. Not long after, India lost the well-set Ajinkya Rahane for 51 from 63 balls, bowled off the pads attempting to sweep Imran Tahir on 51. Dhoni could only look on as Suresh Raina fell for a duck when he gloved a short ball from Morne Morkel down the leg side to de Kock, meaning that India had lost three wickets in six overs.

Dhoni set about the revival first in the company of Axar, who made 13 before Steyn returned and trapped him lbw. Left to bat with the tail, Dhoni nudged and deflected the ball into the gaps for quick singles apart from the odd attempt at hitting out, none better than the massive six off Duminy that brought up the 150. With Bhuvneshwar (13) he put on 41, then 56 with Harbhajan, during which he raised his 60th ODI fifty off 57 balls.

This was vintage Dhoni, shoring up the situation and pumping hard between the wickets. His use of the crease was smart, either going deep to bunt down the ground or back and across to manufacture singles to the legside. Tahir’s last over, the 45th of the innings, saw Dhoni hit four and six to give the Indore faithful reason to cheer. A few more big hits leading upto the final over hinted at a Dhoni century, but Kagiso Rabada – who in his first over of the game had bowled Rohit Sharma – delivered a superb final over with five consecutive dot balls to India’s captain.

India’s reshuffled attack needed to produce something special to back Dhoni’s efforts, and it did.

Brief scores: India 247/9 in 50 overs (MS Dhoni 92*, Ajinkya Rahane 51) beat South Africa 225 in 43.4 overs (Faf du Plessis 51, Axar Patel 3/39, Bhuvneshwar Kumar 3/41) by 22 runs

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