Rajkot, Oct 18: India's formidable batsmen choked under pressure as South Africa relied on a disciplined bowling performance to clinch the 3rd ODI by 18 runs and take a 2-1 lead in the five-match series, here today.
Chasing South Africa's competitive 270 for seven, largely built around Quinton de Kock's 103 and Faf de Plessis' made a valuable 60 after South Africa elected to bat first India were cruising along comfortable before losing the plot in the last 15 overs with a flurry of wickets as they ended at 252 for six.
The rejig in batting order, with skipper MS Dhoni promoting himself up at number four and Ajinkya Rahane coming out to bat number six also did not work. The tourists' pace-heavy bowling attack, led by the lanky Morne Morkel who grabbed a brilliant 4 for 39, throttled the home side batsmen in the final stages.
Half centuries from Rohit Sharma (65) and Virat Kohli (77) and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni's 47 in 61 balls could not take India across the line. After 35 overs, India were 162 for 2 but the as game progressed it gradually slipped out of their hands.
Dhoni departs in 41st over
Dhoni departed in the 41st over, trying to force the pace but was caught at third man off Morkel. The task got stiffer with 78 needed off 48 balls.
Though Kohli hit a few boundaries, the asking rate kept climbing and Suresh Raina was also dismissed going for a big one off Imran Tahir to leave the hosts at 206 for 4 in the 44th over.
And when Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane were dismissed by Morkel in successive balls in the 46th over, in identical fashion at long-on by David Miller, the task was beyond the hosts' grasp.
Rohit, who was yet again in sublime touch, was lucky to be dropped by Morkel off Jean-Paul Duminy when he was on 18. It was sitter and he went on to make his 27th fifty. Rohit and Kohli ran the singles briskly and put on 72 runs for the second wicket before Rohit hit a return catch to Duminy.
Dhoni promoted himself a rung higher and provided the thrust with good running between the wickets and the target looked well in sight as he and Kohli added 80 runs.
The ODI skipper and captain-in-waiting nudged the ball into gaps, ran quick singles and hit the occasional boundary to keep India well in the hunt but their dismissals sealed India's fate.
9th ODI ton for De Kock
Earlier, left-handed batsman Quinton de Kock played the sheet-anchor's role to perfection in hot and sweltering conditions to make 103 in 118 balls.
Courtesy De Kock's ninth hundred in his 50th ODI appearance along with Faf Du Plessis' 63-ball-60, the visitors did well to set up a fighting target.
But the loss of three wickets just before the slog overs, including that of the centurion, arrested their progress though Farhan Behardien (33) played a useful knock in the end.
Prior to the century partnership between de Kock, who hit 11 fours and a six - and Du Plessis, the former put on 72 runs for the first wicket with promoted David Miller (33) to provide the tourists with a good beginning.
De Kock was run out with the final 10 overs to come soon after du Plessis was dismissed and this was followed by the departure of their captain AB de Villiers, sent back by Axar Patel, off the next ball of the innings.
SA in trouble
The clutch of three quick wickets in the space of just 9 balls, left South Africa tottering at 210 for 5 with the last Powerplay just up.
Towards the end the visitors added 60 runs, including 35 in the last five, but fell well short of the 300 mark that they were aiming for.
Indian spinners, Harbhajan Singh (1/41) in particular, applied the brakes in time, after which the Proteas steadily built up the score before losing the three wickets in a hurry.
South Africa were given a good start by their new all- leftie opening pair of Quinton de Kock and David Miller, promoted up the order after his twin failures earlier in the series, who put on 72 runs.
The new ball came on to the bat quite well and the duo flourished a bit to score a few boundary hits, including a six over square leg by de Kock off Bhuvaneshwar Kumar.
Spinners slow down SA's scoring rate
The scoring rate dropped significantly once Harbhajan, The scoring rate dropped significantly once Harbhajan, who bowled pretty impressively by varying his pace and had an extended opening spell of 1 for 31 in 8 overs.
With leg-spinner Amit Mishra (1/38 in 10 overs) brought on at the other end, and with the ball getting older the going became a little bit tougher for the South Africans after the brisk start that helped raise the 50 in the 9th over.
The period between 10 and 15 saw only 16 runs scored and also the departure of Miller who looked in trouble against Harbhjan and was caught brilliantly at backward of point off the leading edge while trying to drive the veteran off spinner.
The visitors lost Hashim Amla, who too has not been in prime form so far in the series, in the 19th over when the score was 87.
The right hander was deceived by a loopy leg break bowled a bit wide of off stump as he stepped out and was stumped smartly by Dhoni.
3 reprieves for Du Plessis
Du Plessis, who scored back to back half centuries, led a charmed life as he was given three reprieves, one of those by third umpire CK Nandan.
He was lucky when on 17 to be caught off a marginal no-ball in the deep off Mohit Sharma, who used the scrambled seam and back of the hand balls to slow down his pace.
Three runs later the South African was put down by a leaping Suresh Raina off Patel who was again the bowler when Shikhar Dhawan could not latch on to a catch after diving to his right at covers in the 37th over soon after completing his third successive half ton of the rubber.
However, he departed when he scooped Mohit Sharma behind the wicket for Bhuvaneshwar Kumar to take a running catch.
This was followed by the dismissals in successive balls of de Kock and de Villiers to prop up the Indian hopes.