South Africa vs India 2018: Kohli and Rahane's stellar partnership is SK Turning Point of the match
India's decision to employ Rahane at number four turned out to be masterstroke in Durban.
Buoyed by their memorable Test match victory in Johannesburg, India continued their form by producing a complete performance against South Africa in the opening ODI at Durban. The visitors cruised to a clinical six-wicket triumph and surged to a 1-0 lead in the six-match series.
The protagonists of their comprehensive victory were skipper Virat Kohli and makeshift middle-order batsman Ajinkya Rahane. The right-handed duo put on a stellar 189-run partnership to help India ace a tricky chase under lights on a sluggish track at Kingsmead.
Under fire for their selection policy in the tour thus far, the Indian team management pulled off a masterstroke by employing Rahane at the vital number four spot. Even though there were quite a few options such as Shreyas Iyer, Dinesh Karthik and Manish Pandey at their disposal, they backed the technically compact right-hander.
India's move to display faith in Rahane paid rich dividends as the Mumbaikar played a decisive knock. His 86-ball 79, laced with five boundaries and two sixes, offered solid support to Kohli at the other end.
Meanwhile, the Indian captain vindicated his versatility by bringing up his 33rd ODI century. The fact that his unbeaten 119-ball 112 comprised just ten boundaries showcased Kohli's ability to keep the scoreboard rollicking along without taking any unnecessary risks.
Kohli-Rahane partnership seals clinical triumph
Chasing 270 for victory, the Indian openers began in a positive manner. Rohit Sharma did not shy away from taking the aerial route. After a couple of breathtaking shots, the elegant right-hander gave his wicket away by playing an irresponsible shot.
Shikhar Dhawan appeared to be in ominous form as a slew of boundaries reeled off from his blade one after another. When he was just finding his rhythm, Kohli's error in judgement cost him dearly. Setting off for a non-existent single, the Indian skipper coerced his batting partner into taking the run. Aiden Markram's bullet throw caught Dhawan well short of his crease.
At 67/2, India were in desperate need for a nerve-soothing partnership. Unlike most other batsmen, Kohli did not let the run-out cloud his approach at the crease. With an effervescent Rahane for company, he ran hard between the wickets to put pressure on the Proteas.
The duo ruthlessly preyed on loose deliveries and forced the South Africans to rethink their tactics by taking the attack to the relatively weak links in the bowling unit. Seam all-rounders Chris Morris and Andile Phehlukwayo bore the brunt of India's dynamic batting.
In what was a pivotal on-field battle, Kohli and Rahane never allowed Imran Tahir to settle down. They used their wrists to manoeuvre the ball and left the seasoned leg-spinner searching for answers on a surface showing ample assistance to those of his ilk.
The manner in which he danced down the track and lofted Tahir into the stands displayed Rahane's intent. He was at it again as a stunning pick-up shot off the bowling of Morris went sailing for a huge six. By the time Phehlukwayo broke the partnership, the game was all but over.
From 30.2 overs, Kohli and Rahane had amassed 189 valuable runs at a rate of more than six runs per over. A tired stroke ended the former's scintillating performance. As he has done on countless occasions right throughout his career, Dhoni scored the winning runs with 27 balls to spare.
Ahead of the ODI series, Kohli had hinted that they were looking to experiment with the number four slot which has been an issue in recent times. While he had alluded at Rahane being one of the contenders before the opening match, the latter's enterprising knock might just have solved the conundrum for the moment.