Bhuvneshwar Kumar said South Africa's ploy to unsettle Indian batsmen with short-pitched balls back-fired and the key to India's success in the first T20 international was changing the pace and bowling more slower deliveries at the Wanderers on Sunday. Kumar (5 for 24) grabbed his maiden five-wicket haul in T20 internationals to help India notch up a 28-run win after restricting South Africa to 175/9 in 20 overs. "What I was trying to do is bring about change of pace in my bowling. I just wanted to take the pace off the ball because I knew it won't be easy to hit the ball and that's what I did. The important thing is how you mix your deliveries according to the wicket," Kumar said.
"For instance, today we bowled a lot of slow balls. It was a part of our strategy on this wicket, to do away with pace and make it difficult for the batsmen to score. Apart from line and length, it's important to understand how you want to mix your deliveries. It matters. Today, for instance, it was about bowling slow."
Shikhar Dhawan scored 72 off 39 balls as India sped off in the powerplay overs. The visitors finished with 203/5, their highest total in T20 cricket against South Africa. This was despite the Proteas targeting India with a short-ball strategy.
Kumar said, "Whenever India goes abroad, the reputation is that India are not good at batting against short bowling. This time we haven't seen that thing. We have really tackled it well. Today they bowled 5-6 overs of short bowling to us early on and it really backfired on them."
Kumar opined that India's reputation against short bowling has improved off late. "Whatever the reputation we had, in the last few years we are playing totally opposite of that. We have managed the short ball pretty well on this tour. They wanted to bowl short but it didn't really work well for them," he said.
"Something doesn't work for you, you have to come up for something else (a plan B, but they didn't). So that's what probably worked to our advantage."
Kumar hailed the team's 28-run win in the first T20I as a complete performance. "It was a complete performance from us. When we went in there, we knew what we wanted to do as best as a bowling team," said Kumar. "We lost the first two Test matches and then we came back. The momentum was on our side and if momentum is on your side, you have got to make it count. Credit has to go the Indian team for the way we have played in every department," he added.
Kumar became the first Indian pacer to pick up a five-wicket haul in each format of the game. Additionally, he has experienced a successful tour after impressing with both bat and ball in the Tests as well as the ODI series. The pacer said that managing workloads and fitness has been the key to his success. "First thing, it comes with fitness. It's not easy playing all three formats, especially on a single tour. So the first thing before coming here what I wanted to do is manage workload. I wanted to practice but in a specific way, so as to not put extra workload on the body," he said.
"The credit goes to the entire team because individual performances don't matter. We stayed together and that's what worked. For instance, we didn't win the first two Tests but from the third Test, the momentum went our way. So it wasn't about just one person. It's about each and every player, and the support staff and the management to everyone," Kumar added.
Asked about his five-wicket haul, Kumar said: "Taking wickets means a lot to me when you play for your country. It doesn't matter if you take five wickets or how many as long as you're winning matches for your country. That's what matters and taking fifers in every format feels good. I want to do it as long as possible."
Kumar said batting first on the Wanderers pitch gave them ample idea about the nature of the wicket and it helped when they returned to defend their total. "After we batted, we had a certain idea of the kind of wicket we would be bowling on after what we saw. But the whole picture begins to emerge only after you've bowled because it depends on the bowlers," he said. "Look at their bowlers, they're of a different height and have different skill sets. So you get an idea but as I said, the whole thing emerges only after you've bowled a few balls. For instance, if I've bowled the first over, I can communicate with the rest of the bowlers what's happening on the wicket, like that," he added.
Suresh Raina came to bat at no.3 in his comeback game. Asked what was the reason for such a move, Kumar said: "You will have to ask the captain for particular reasons. But in the IPL also, Raina bats at no.3 and he likes to attack in the powerplay overs. So probably that would have been the strategy, I wouldn't know."
South Africa will look to bounce back quickly in this series. The second T20I will be played in Centurion on Wednesday and Kumar said India can never take the Proteas lightly. "If you look at the one-day series and now, yes they've been vulnerable. But South Africa is not that kind of team (to be considered fragile). It happens to any team in the world when things don't go your way or plans don't fall in place but that doesn't mean they're a weak team or they're not a good team," he signed off.
(With PTI inputs)