Graeme Smith raced to a fantastic 134, his highest score in ODIs, as South Africa took an unassailable lead
Undone by some ordinary batting on a grassy pitch ideally suited to South Africa's seamers, India succumbed to 188 - a score that looked unlikely till Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif bailed the team out - and then found it impossible to defend such a low total under lights, in dewy conditions. Their batsmen failed to apply themselves in helpful conditions early on. When it was their chance to bowl, there weren't enough runs on the board, and Graeme Smith led from the front with a superb 134 not out, as South Africa won by 10 wickets.
When Smith won the toss and instantly chose to field, it was clear that the going would be anything but easy. Even with Makhaya Ntini unavailable through illness, South Africa, led by the redoubtable Shaun Pollock, had the bowling to exploit the conditions handed to them. India responded with unorthodoxy, sending Irfan Pathan out to bat with Gautam Gambhir. But Pathan lasted only three balls, dragging Pollock back onto his stumps. Soon after, Sachin Tendulkar got one that lifted and moved away and tickled fine to the keeper. Gambhir laced two excellent boundaries, giving hope that resistance was possible, before dabbing one straight to Smith in the slip cordon, and India were in deep trouble at 23 for 3.
Virender Sehwag, not overtly concerned with the mess that the Indian scoreboard was in, started well, punching powerfully through the off, both sides of the cover fielder. His footwork was Sehwag-minimalist, his balance perfect, and strokeplay exhilarating. But with the ball moving about quite a bit both in the air and off the pitch, it was only a matter of time before something gave. Andrew Hall, who had been treated with some disdain by Sehwag, picked up the wicket when one moved enough to kiss the outside edge on the way to the keeper. Rahul Dravid, who had been everything Sehwag was not, lasted 31 balls in a careful vigil at the crease before a peach from Charl Langeveldt sent him packing. A ball slanted in from wide of the crease swung away late, and Dravid, who was enticed into driving towards on, lost his off stump. India were 71 for 5 and looking straight down the barrel of Smith's loaded gun.
Shaun Pollock set up South Africa's win with a superb performance early on
Yuvraj and Kaif then showed remarkable resilience. Kaif survived a couple of close calls early on, edging outside off and falling over and being hit on the pad, but soon tightened up and looked confident and competent. Yuvraj was always confident, whether leaving the ball alone or punishing the loose ones, and his footwork was decisive. All of a sudden two young batsmen were running hard between the stumps, the scoreboard was ticking over, and India had their first strong partnership of the innings - 81 for the sixth wicket.
Then South Africa struck back, through Johan Botha, the offspinner, removing Yuvraj lbw as he flicked and missed. When Kaif (46) clipped Nel straight to midwicket soon after India were again brought to their knees at 167 for 7. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, batting down the order, was well contained by bowlers who kept the ball short of a driving length, and when he failed, holing out to long-on, India were well short of a competitive total, bowled out for 188 in under 46 overs.
Smith and Hall came out to bat knowing fully well that they had to make all the mistakes if South Africa were to fail to chase the modest target. Smith, in particular, was impressive, going after anything that was just a touch short or wide. His bat did not quite describe a flamboyant arc but it certainly came down hard on the ball in short, sharp bursts, and sent point and cover scattering. Hall was the opposite, playing with a very straight bat, and repeatedly failed to beat the infield. But overall South Africa were more than healthy - the 50 came up without the loss of a wicket in under 12 overs.
The introduction of spinners, Harbhajan Singh in particular, caused a momentary deceleration, but soon enough Smith broke the shackles, jumping down the track and lofting the ball back over the bowler's head. Then, as the runs required narrowed in on the overs remaining, and South Africa reached a position from which they could not lose, Hall came to the party, taking Murali Kartik on and repeatedly heaving over the infield. Hall ended on 48 not out, and Smith on 134 not out when South Africa won. But you could not help wondering if the crowd roared in appreciation of an innings well played, or because India minus their darling, Sourav Ganguly, were getting thumped. Either way, it's 2-1 with one to play in Mumbai.
Irfan Pathan b Pollock 0 (2 for 1)
Inside edged driving outside off
Sachin Tendulkar c Boucher b Pollock 2 (14 for 2)
Felt for one outside the off that seamed a touch
Gautam Gambhir c Smith b Pollock 11 (23 for 3)
Glided to slip
Virender Sehwag c Boucher b Hall 30 (29 for 4)
Slashed to the wicketkeeper
Rahul Dravid b Langeveldt 6 (71 for 5)
Beaten all ends up by a late outswinger
Yuvraj Singh lbw b Botha 53 (152 for 6)
Struck in front of middle when he missed a flick
Mohammad Kaif c Smith b Nel 46 (167 for 7)
Clipped to midwicket
Ajit Agarkar b Kallis 11 (187 for 8)
Cleaned up swinging across the line
Mahendra Dhoni c Botha b Hall 14 (187 for 9)
Holed out to long-on
Harbhajan Singh lbw b Hall 0 (188 all out)
Trapped plumb in front
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo