Kagiso Rabada showed nerves of steel, taking two wickets in the final over as South Africa edged out India by five runs in the first ODI in Kanpur on Sunday.
It was a pulsating finish to a game that went down to the wire despite India looking comfortable for the majority of their innings, thanks largely to a great knock of 150 off 133 balls by opener Rohit Sharma.
He shared a second-wicket partnership of 149 with Ajinkya Rahane (60) to put India in the driving seat, but in the end it couldn’t prevent them from losing this game.
Rabada finished on 2-58 and Imran Tahir redeemed himself towards the end by claiming 2-57.
The turning point came at the start of the 47th over when Tahir caught Sharma off his own bowling. Suresh Raina followed him to the pavilion in the same over when he tried to slam a googly over the midwicket boundary but ended up mis-hitting it towards long on, where JP Duminy took the catch to leave India on 273-5.
The key for India was MS Dhoni, usually a master finisher, but he picked up what looked like a stomach injury during his innings.
India needed 22 runs off the last two overs and 11 runs from the last six balls, but Dhoni seem to have lost patience because he tried to aim a slog across the line, but top edged the ball high in the air and Rabada called for it coolly to take the catch and all but seal the win for his team.
Needing seven off the final two balls, Rabada struck again to have Stuart Binny caught by Hashim Amla. Rabada admitted afterwards that he never thought about the hat-trick as India only managed a single off the final delivery to finish on 298-7.
India will feel they should have won this game, but the result means South Africa stay undefeated on this tour.
AB de Villiers was named Man of the Match after a brilliantly paced innings of 104 off 73 balls. He shared three consecutive partnerships in the forties (48, 45 and 41) with Faf du Plessis, David Miller and JP Duminy respectively as South Africa posted 303-5.
Farhaan Behardien further strengthened his place in the side with a vital 35 off 19 balls, sharing a 65-run partnership with De Villiers as they smashed 65 runs in the last five overs.
Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla racked up 45 runs before De Kock fell to R Ashwin for 29. Amla and Du Plessis (62) shared a 59-run partnership for the second wicket and together they laid the foundation for De Villiers to dominate the innings.
And dominate he did. He was patient throughout the middle overs, not hitting too many boundaries but keeping the scoreboard ticking over.
Watching De Villiers accelerate his innings is like flicking a switch. He got his hundred with a six from the last ball of the innings and looks set for a big series with the bat.
India were dealt a big injury blow when R Ashwin picked up a side strain after diving to stop the ball off his own bowling. He left the field twice as Dhoni had to rethink his bowling strategy after that.
Harbhajan Singh has been called up for the second and third ODI’s. It is still unclear for how long Ashwin will be sidelined.
The second ODI will be played on Wednesday.