Faf du Plessis’ first, Quinton de Kock’s second and AB de Villiers’ third centuries of the series saw South Africa soar to the highest total of the five matches so far and the highest ever in India. The trio of triple-figures, only the second time that has been done in an ODI, meant every Indian bowler was punished on a surface that did not offer much bounce or turn but gave South Africa their second ODI score of 438.
The last time they notched up that number was nine years ago, at the Wanderers against Australia, when they chased successfully. Since then, South Africa have scored over 400 five more times, four in 2015 alone.
In this innings, their aggression was applied in waves with de Kock, then du Plessis and then de Villiers attacking one at a time, and putting on two century stands between them, against an Indian attack that began with an over-reliance on the short ball and then ran out of ideas. They have never conceded more runs in an ODI and have never scored more than 362 while chasing.
South Africa showed signs of authority from the start. They raced to 33 off the first four overs, during which Hashim Amla became the fastest batsmen to 6,000 ODI runs, but perished going for a cut shot to end the series in the same patchy form he began. That problem did not plague anyone else.
De Kock continued where Amla left off and brought up the team’s fifty inside six overs with a meaty pull, a shot he dished out in dominant fashion throughout his innings. With the seamers trying and failing to generate something with the short ball, MS Dhoni introduced spin in the seventh over. Harbhajan Singh kept things tight at his end and even managed to make de Kock feel a little uneasy with one that snuck past the outside edge, but the tension was routinely broken at the other end. Bhuvneshwar’s over-reliance on the short ball and du Plessis’ growing confidence saw South Africa reach 100 in the 15th over.
India had a chance to pull things back when de Kock was on 58 and hit Amit Mishra in the air to mid-off. Mohit Sharma got fingertips to the ball but could not hold on and the mistake would prove costly. De Kock was seeing the ball so well he even managed to take on Harbhajan. He found the rope so regularly, there was barely a need for singles, although his century, off the 78th ball he faced, came up with a single to midwicket. Sixty-eight percent of de Kock’s runs came in boundaries.
Du Plessis had almost been a spectator in the proceedings, patiently working his way to the halfway stage. He allowed de Kock most of the strike and was not overly anxious to score at a run-a-ball and given South Africa’s position, did not have to. It was only when de Kock was caught on the long-off boundary that du Plessis, who had brought up his fourth fifty of the series, accelerated. He announced his intent with a loft over extra cover off Axar Patel, his first six of the innings, and then the party began.
Despite South Africa’s two most destructive batsmen at the crease, Dhoni bowled Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli, which was an invitation for the pair to get comfortable. They pierced the gaps in the field without much effort, hit with power and even the mis-hits flew. De Villiers injected impetus into the innings with his scoring rate – his fifty came off 34 balls – and du Plessis began catching up too. After taking 61 balls to score fifty, he needed just 44 more deliveries to get a century, even as he battled cramps to get there.