Port Elizabeth:India seemed set for a maiden series win in South Africa after the home side collapsed to 118 for 5 through a combination of some headless-chicken running and constricting bowling from India's part-time spinners, but a responsible JP Duminy orchestrated a fightback which hauled South Africa to a challenging total before India's batsmen, barring Virat Kohli, folded on a sluggish Port Elizabeth pitch.
On a blustery day, Hashim Amla returned to his awesome run-scoring form. He took his time initially assessing the pitch in the early overs, but soon unfurled his full range of strokes to pick up plenty of boundaries. Zaheer Khan was punched past backward point and later pulled to midwicket, Munaf Patel was crunched past mid-off while Ashish Nehra was caressed past extra cover. A slash to third man off Yuvraj Singh brought Amla his 12th half-century, during which he broke Zaheer Abbas' 28-year record for the fastest man to make 2000 ODI runs.
Graeme Smith's rarely found the middle of the bat or his timing and finally miscued an attempted swat to mid-off. Morne van Wyk, a surprise pick in South Africa's World Cup squad who was playing his first one-dayer in more than three years, proved a more solid partner to Amla. Yuvraj Singh and the other part-timers were getting the ball to turn, though it was slow spin, but one of those deliveries moved enough to take the outside edge of van Wyk's bat to fly to first slip.
South Africa were 106 for 2, but India edged ahead when a mistimed pull from Amla trickled towards short fine leg, just outside the inner circle - Amla went for a suicidal second run and it ended in suicide, as he was caught well short.
The worries increased for South Africa when Yuvraj prised out another big wicket in the next over, that of AB de Villiers, adjudged caught-behind though it was unclear whether he edged the ball, but he can't complain much as he was stumped as well off that delivery. The misery continued when Faf du Plessis, who made such a composed half-century on debut on Tuesday, perished to some senseless running.
Duminy and Johan Botha then set about ensuring South Africa built a competitive score. Duminy cut out the Hollywood shots and nudged the ball around for singles, while Botha hit a series of leg-side boundaries, the pick of which was an effortless flick off Zaheer. Yuvraj ended that stand at 70, getting his third wicket with a tossed-up delivery that beat Botha's sweep.
Eyebrows were raised when left-arm spinner Robin Peterson was picked ahead of highly rated leg-spinner Imran Tahir, but he responded with an important 31, which ended with him sacrificing his wicket to save Duminy.
Duminy, meanwhile, had brought up his fourth half-century in five innings with a gorgeous off-drive, and eased South Africa's concerns over the performance of their lower-middle order. With four wickets still remaining heading into the batting Powerplay, Duminy helped plunder 45 runs off the final five overs and India's batsmen had a challenge ahead of them.
The Indian chase got off to a dreadful start as Rohit Sharma's batting woes continued, chasing and missing the first two deliveries from Lonwabo Tsotsobe, being carving the third to backward point. The other opener Parthiv Patel, who has had only one net session to adapt to South African conditions after flying in as a replacement for Sachin Tendulkar, was in far better touch but in the 10th over he was lbw missing a full delivery from Tsotsobe.
Kohli was the bright spot of the day for India, playing one of his finest international innings. He started with a couple of classy extra cover drives and was rarely troubled on a track where most found shot-making difficult. He was a touch tied down against the quicks , but opened out against the amiable left-arm spin of Peterson. Kohli hammered Peterson for 32 runs off 21 deliveries, including two effortless sixes over long-off.
While Kohli was crafting a stunning innings which will further his case for a starting spot in the World Cup, the rest of the middle-order stuttered. Yuvraj fell to an outstanding diving catch from Smith after top-edging a paddle-sweep, Suresh Raina hung around for a while without really convincing , before missing an arm-ball from Peterson. India's hopes evaporated when MS Dhoni was dismissed after scratching around for eight balls, and lower-order game-changer Yusuf Pathan lasted all off three balls.