Proteas beat India to take ODI series lead

A sensational unbeaten 73-ball century from captain AB de Villiers and a spectacular final over by 20 year-old fast bowler Kagiso Rabada guided South Africa to a thrilling five-run victory against India in the first ODI in Kanpur on Sunday.

India failed at the last hurdle in chasing down the first ever score in excess of 300 in Kanpur as they collapsed during the death overs and fell five runs short of South Africa's 303 for five in the first ODI of a five-match series,

Rohit Sharma (150 off 133 balls) and Ajinkya Rahane (60 off 82) put on 149 in 26 overs for the second wicket as they had appeared to take the game away from the Proteas, but the visitors clawed their way back into the match as they held onto their catches as the pressure mounted.

The 20-year old fast bowler Kagiso Rabada (two for 58) was the star of the stage when the curtain was drawn as he took two wickets in the final over and conceded only five runs from it when India needed 11 for victory with five wickets in hand.

India only managed to score 40 runs for four wickets in the final five overs as the Proteas put the brakes on the home team after a good start.

Visiting skipper AB de Villiers (104 not out from 73 balls) elected to bat after winning the toss and put his money where his mouth was by knitting his batting order neatly together and then finishing the innings off with a flurry of boundaries as he took his side past what used to the magic number of 300 runs with a six off the last ball of the innings.

De Villiers averages 54 in the format and is the world's highest ranked ODI batsmen by a considerable margin – I have covered a great many series in India and today was the first time I have ever heard the Indian crowd chanting the name of an opposition players and cheering his every boundary.

Faf du Plessis did a solid job at number three after Quinton de Kock (29 off 33) made his comeback to the international side after scoring multiple centuries for the SA A side in India recently.

De Kock edged a ripper from Ravi Ashwin to Suresh Raina at slip and his opening partner Hashim Amla (37 off 59) also could not convert a solid start.

South Africa had batted well by building solid partnerships and maintaining a healthy rate of scoring but 300 is not what it used to be, even if the pitch had seemed a little tricky in the first innings.

India's bowling was led well by spinners Ashwin (1-14) and Mishra (2-47) but after the former was forced off the field by a side strain the home side looked far from threatening with the ball and Farhaan Behardien (35 off 19) and de Villiers were well up to the task of despatching a litany of full tosses across the ropes.

The seamers had an especially difficult morning as Bhuvneshwar Kumar (0-67) struggled in vain while Umesh Yadav (2-71) and Stuart Binny (0-63) went for over seven runs to the over.

Ashwin's injury was serious enough for the Indian selectors to immediately call Harbhajan Singh up to the squad as backup – Ashwin is easily India's best bowler and it is important that no risks are taken with his fitness in the lead up to the all-important four-Test series in just a few weeks time.

India's reply was going swimmingly as they came out of the blocks quickly and lost only one wicket in the first 33 overs of the chase when Shikkar Dhawan was LBW to Morne Morkel (1-51) but loose shots translated to easy catches as a tiring Rohit Sharma could not find any partner able to manage a run a ball.

Rahane could manage only a 75 per cent strike rate and once he departed the required run rate only grew. That Sharma's astonishingly good 150 came in vain was a crying shame.

De Villiers' 103 not out earned him man of the match and was a cutting reminder of the harsh realities of international cricket.

Credit must be given to th Proteas for not giving up in the field at a time when many a team’s shoulders would have dropped as an easy victory in front of a large and loud Indian crowd on a hot and dusty day seemed inevitable.

Wickets brought hope and hope brought renewed determination and Rabada finished the job as captain MS Dhoni failed to finish India's innings in the way that de Villiers had done.

Dhoni is a captain under pressure. Virat Kohli has taken the Test reins and there is little doubt that he will be promoted to captain in the limited overs formats as well, should Dhoni's men lose a third consecutive series.

Ashwin's injury will definitely not help his cause.

"Frankly we should have won that game," Dhoni lamented the after the match.  

"I've never felt that much pressure before," said the beaming young superstar prospect Rabada after the game.

It had indeed been brave of De Villiers to entrust the last over to the bowler, who executed it as if he was no stranger to such a nerve-wracking situation.

The next ODI is a day/night fixture in Indore on Wednesday and India will be very keen to break their duck in this Mahatma-Ghandi-Nelson Mandela series.

Nick Sadleir in Kanpur