It was 345 days ago that Scott Edwards’ Netherlands side had sprung one of the biggest surprises of recent years by beating South Africa at Adelaide Oval in their last match of the World T20 Cup, and on Tuesday they caused an even greater shock by doing it again.
Beautiful as both grounds are there could scarcely be a greater contrast than that between Adelaide and the Himachal Pradesh Ground in Dharamsala, set as it is at almost 1500 metres above sea level with the Himalayas as its northern backdrop, and there were differences too in the manner of the two Dutch victories.
After all, a year ago it had been a T20 game, and the conventional wisdom is that in the longer ODI format class will tell.
It did indeed tell in Dharamsala, but it was the class of a Dutch side which came back from a seemingly hopeless situation to recover dramatically with the bat and then dominate their more illustrious, experienced opponents with the ball.
A volley of showers during the morning had caused a two-hour delay and a reduction of the match to 43 overs a side, psychologically favourable for the Netherlands perhaps, but not enough to change the essential parameters of the format.
And it was the four-man South African pace unit of Lungi Ngidi, Marco Jansen, Kagiso Rabada and Gerald Coetzee who had the better of the first 34 overs of the Dutch innings after Temba Bavuma won the toss and put them in, reducing them to 50 for four and then to a perilous 140 for seven.
That and some inspired reviewing from Bavuma, which overturned two decisions and removed first Max O’Dowd, who had the finest of tickles to Quinton de Kock from Jansen, and then Bas de Leede, trapped in front by Rabada.
The solid start which Edwards needed from his top order had failed to eventuate, and although Sybrand Engelbrecht, promoted to five, put up some more encouraging resistance, a barrage of short deliveries finally induced him to pull Ngidi down the throat of Jansen on the fine leg boundary.
On a pitch which favoured the bowlers the Proteas had generally got their lengths wrong, but they had bowled sufficient wicket-taking deliveries to cut through the Dutch, who were unable so far to build a partnership which might help get them to a defendable total.
At 140 for seven 200 seemed a very long way off, but now Roelof van der Merwe joined his captain, who had made his way to 33 not out.
The former South African Test player proceeded to go after the returning Coetzee, hitting back-to-back boundaries before smearing another short ball flat over third man for six, and suddenly the whole character of the innings was transformed.
With only an eight-over final powerplay remaining the enterprise of Van der Merwe and Edwards appeared to throw the South Africans completely: now the increasingly number of poor deliveries was severely punished, while the fielding too started to crack under the pressure.
64 were added from just six overs, and when Van der Merwe departed for a 19-ball 29, miscuing an Ngidi delivery high in the air before it descended into De Kock’s gloves, Aryan Dutt added to the Proteas’ misery by smacking three sixes, one in each of the last three overs.
Edwards, meanwhile, had reached his fourteenth ODI half-century, equalling Ryan ten Doeschate’s Dutch record, and he went on to an unbeaten 78, his last 50 runs coming from just 30 deliveries; there were the inevitable sweep shots, but he also repeatedly hit the bowling back straight as well, and this was perhaps the most complete, and completely effective, innings of his increasingly impressive career.
So it was a shell-shocked South Africa which emerged after the innings break, the target a reasonably demanding 246.
Edwards’ enterprise is not confined to his batting: as a captain in the field, backed up by the tactical thinking of coach Ryan Cook and the back-room and the helpful notes which reside in Max O’Dowd’s pocket, he is prepared to produce unexpected coups, such as introducing Colin Ackermann into the attack in the fourth over, after just one over from Logan van Beek.
The off-spin duo of Ackermann and Aryan Dutt, followed by the left-arm spin of Van der Merwe, did the trick, removing first De Kock (who gloved Ackermann to Edwards behind the stumps) and then Bavuma (comprehensively bowled by Van der Merwe).
When Paul van Meekeren came into the attack, he bowled Aiden Markram off a fine outside edge, and then Van der Merwe struck again, Rassie van der Dussen attempting a reverse sweep and directing the ball straight into the hands of Dutt at third man.
South Africa were 44 for four, and their innings was spookily following the course of their opponents’; the difference was, however, that there was little or no waywardness from the Dutch attack, which steadily built the pressure through disciplined bowling which has become the side’s hallmark.
The question was: who in the South African line-up might play the Edwards role, or indeed that of Van der Merwe?
David Miller was the obvious candidate, but he lost another partner when Heinrich Klaasen fell to a carbon copy of the Engelbrecht dismissal, pulling Van Beek into the hands of Vikram Singh at deep fine leg.
Miller had a reprieve when De Leede, perhaps losing sight of the ball in the night sky, put down a potentially crucial chance at long on, but Van Meekeren struck again in the next over, bowling Jansen to make it 109 for six.
As he had against Pakistan in the opening game Edwards was deploying his bowlers with masterly skill, giving them short spells and not allowing the batters to settle, and it was the return of Van Beek for a third burst which claimed the vital wicket of Miller, who had made his way to 43 but who now swung across the line and was bowled.
Coetzee, initially showing signs of Van-der-Merweish aggression, had made a run-a-ball 22, but De Leede got him caught behind with a lifting delivery, and when Rabada fell to a brilliant diving catch by Engelbrecht at backward point the Proteas were 166 for nine, needing 80 off the last eight overs but with just Keshav Maharaj and Ngidi to get them.
They rode their luck for a while, the ball repeatedly falling into gaps in the field, while Maharaj produced some genuinely fine strokes as the Dutch searched for that final wicket.
Maharaj smacked a four and a six off Van Beek’s final over to take South Africa past 200, but then the next ball took the glove, Edwards took the catch, and the Netherlands took the points and the credit for one of cricket’s greatest recoveries.
Edwards was deservedly Player of the Match, but it was a performance full of heroes: Van der Merwe’s figures of two for 34 from nine overs reflected an outstanding performance, Dutt and Ackermann made vital contributions early on, while Van Beek (three for 60 on his return from injury), Van Meekeren (two for 40) and De Leede (two for 36) all took wickets at crucial moments.
The Netherlands had again received their reward for a magnificent team effort, and if they play like this again the Proteas may not be the only fancied side to be added to their growing list of Full member scalps.