A superb unbeaten 31 from Dinesh Karthik led India to a thrilling penultimate-ball victory in their first-ever Pro20 outing at the Wanderers. Chasing South Africa's 126 for 9, they were also indebted to a quickfire 34 from Virender Sehwag and a steady 38 from Dinesh Mongia. The bowlers had done a sterling job earlier in the evening, with Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar especially impressive in restricting a powerful batting line-up.
With nine needed from the final over, Karthik eased Indian nerves by clouting Robin Peterson for a big six over midwicket. Four balls later, he cut one through point to round off a memorable evening, with India sealing their first win of the tour nearly three weeks after they arrived in the Southern Cape.
The Indian innings had started eventfully. After Sehwag had driven Van der Wath through the covers for four, Charl Langeveldt had Sachin Tendulkar edging behind off a free hit. In his next over, Tendulkar creamed one through the covers before lofting another over point for four more. But just as the Indian flags began waving ever more animatedly, Langeveldt had his say, with Tendulkar dragging a full delivery back on to the stumps.
Sehwag and Mongia then consolidated matters, and when Graeme Smith called on Tyron Henderson, Sehwag weighed in immediately, slashing a six over the rope at third man before deflecting wide of the keeper for four more. Another clever deflection to third man followed off Roger Telemachus, and when a short-pitched delivery flew off his helmet for four leg byes, India nudged ahead of the asking rate.
Henderson's medium-pace offerings were to Sehwag's liking, and a wide delivery outside off stump was sent soaring over point, but the combination of Ashwell Prince, the substitute fielder, and Langeveldt with a full-length Jonty Rhodes-style dive cut short his scintillating 29-ball innings.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni lasted just two balls before being cleaned up by the impressive Langeveldt, but Mongia, who returns home after the one-day series, kept up the momentum with some sweetly-timed strokes through midwicket. When Albie Morkel came on, he struck one beautifully over cover for six, and with Karthik playing a gorgeous straight drive off Telemachus, John Denver's Country Roads provided apt background music as India eased towards victory. Mongia fell to a slog to provide one final hiccup, but Karthik and Suresh Raina saw that there would be no costly stutter at the finish.
It was no less than India deserved after a disciplined bowling display that saw South Africa slump to 41 for 4, before Justin Kemp and the six-hitting Morkel led something of a recovery. Morkel smashed 27 from 18 balls, including one massive six off Harbhajan Singh that cleared the stands over midwicket. Having taken sixes off Sreesanth and Irfan Pathan earlier, he fell trying for another, caught at long-off off Sreesanth. Tendulkar had accounted for Kemp earlier, trapping him in front, even as a steady drizzle started to fall.
Van der Wath's 21 held the lower order together, but there weren't the wickets in hand to launch any sort of onslaught. Robin Peterson was run-out off a free hit, after Harbhajan bowled a no-ball, and when Van der Wath slogged the next ball into Raina's hands at long on, India had reestablished their stranglehold on proceedings.
After quasi-Bollywood-style entertainment had set the stage, there were massive cheers when Smith, with one run in the one-day series, got the innings off the mark with a single to fine leg off Zaheer, and they became even more raucous when Sreesanth was cut for four and then driven beautifully down the ground. But it was too good to last, and in Zaheer's next over, Loots Bosman edged one to Tendulkar at first slip.
Smith tried to up the ante by charging Sreesanth and lofting one down to the long-off fence, and Herschelle Gibbs followed suit with a punishing pull for four off Zaheer. But when Agarkar replaced Sreesanth, India got a reward right away, with Gibbs thumping one straight to short cover. That turned out to be a maiden over, and South Africa's plight worsened when Zaheer crowned a quite magnificent spell with the wicket of his bunny, Smith once again trapped in front.
AB de Villiers came in and slashed a six over point, but Agarkar exacted instant retribution, inducing an edge behind. With the Indians buzzing, it was left to Kemp to right the balance a little by smashing Pathan's first ball to the cover fence, following it up with a top edge to fine leg for four more.
India were dealt a blow when Agarkar left the field midway through his third over with a torn groin muscle. Tendulkar came on to replace him, and Kemp latched on straight away, tucking one behind square for four. But despite his and Morkel's efforts, there was no denying an Indian side piloted home by one of its future stars.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo