South Africa vs India 2018: Bhuvneshwar Kumar's splendid Power Play spell is SK Turning Point of the match
Bhuvneshwar's sustained accuracy propels India to victory in the final T20I at Cape Town.
Over the course of the last couple of months, skipper Virat Kohli as well as the wrist-spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal may have garnered all the attention. However, much like his admirable off-field demeanour, Bhuvneshwar Kumar has unassumingly played an equally instrumental role in helping India reap rewards from what has been a fruitful tour of South Africa.
In the third T20I and final match of the trip, Bhuvneshwar fittingly sealed victory for the 'Men in Blue'. Before returning in the business stages of the innings and defending 18 runs in a brilliant last over, the 28-year old seamer had tilted the scales in India's favour with his accurate spell in the Power Play overs.
From his first three overs, Bhuvneshwar conceded just 13 runs and picked up the early breakthrough of Reeza Hendricks. His subtle variations as well as relentless control paved the way for India to seize momentum and surge to a seven-run win in the pulsating clash at Cape Town. The narrow victory enabled the visitors to pocket their second trophy from the South African safari.
Chasing only 173, the Proteas would have fancied their chances under lights at the Newlands Cricket Ground. But their hopes were dented considerably in the Power Play overs as the Indian seamers operated smartly to elevate the required run-rate.
Bhuvneshwar's accuracy piles pressure on Proteas
Not taking long to find the perfect length for the sluggish surface, Bhuvneshwar kept Hendricks guessing in the opening over of the South African innings. Apart from conceding a boundary in the fourth delivery of the over, the right-armer showed exemplary control to start the proceedings.
With Jasprit Bumrah giving away just two runs from the second over, Bhuvneshwar used the mounting pressure as a springboard for procuring an early breakthrough. After pushing the opener back with a rapid bouncer, he deceived Hendricks by unfurling a much slower knuckle ball. Put off by the change in pace, the right-hander paid the ultimate price for going through with his shot a lot earlier than needed.
When the seemingly inexperienced Shardul Thakur maintained India's stranglehold on the South African top-order, stand-in captain Rohit Sharma made an astute move in giving Bhuvneshwar his third over inside the Power Play.
The seasoned campaigner vindicated the decision by further tightening the screws on the hosts. Bhuvneshwar's tactical nous could be discerned from his shrewd variations in pace and length. His third over came at the cost of just four runs.
Debutant Jonker takes the game to the wire
At the end of the first six overs, South Africa found themselves at 25/1 and the required run-rate had shot up to 10.57. All-rounder Hardik Pandya continued to aggravate the pressure by delivering a string of economical overs. He also helped remove the dangerous Heinrich Klaasen.
Meanwhile, JP Duminy looked to lead from the front by taking the attack to the opposition bowlers. He slammed successive sixes off Axar Patel to keep the Proteas in the contest. The left-hander brought up his 11th T20I fifty before succumbing to a slower ball from Thakur.
With 64 runs required from the last four overs, South Africa's chances appeared to be over. At least before Christiaan Jonker launched an unexpected and audacious counter-attack. In his maiden appearance for South Africa, the 31-year old plundered three boundaries and a six off the 18th over.
Jonker's unrestrained stroke-play took the match to its final over. Needing 19 more in front of a packed audience, South Africa were once again outsmarted by Bhuvneshwar. This time around, he did it by switching to a fuller length.
Preventing the debutant from getting underneath the ball, Bhuvneshwar ascertained an Indian victory before picking Jonker's wicket in the final delivery of the game. The seamer, who ended the match with figures of 2/24, was deservedly named the Player of the Series for propelling India to a 2-1 triumph.