CHENNAI: India’s bowlers backed up a long-awaited century from Virat Kohli as the hosts defeated South Africa by 35 runs on Thursday to level the five-match one-day series 2-2.
Kohli smashed 138 off 140 balls to lift India to 299-8 after Mahendra Singh Dhoni elected to bat in the must-win international at the Chidambaram stadium in Chennai.
The tourists managed only 264-9 in reply despite a heroic 112 off 107 balls by skipper AB de Villiers even as the other batsmen folded in the stifling heat and humidity.
Seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar claimed three wickets and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh took two to set the stage for the decisive final match at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai on Sunday.
South Africa badly missed all-rounder JP Duminy and fast bowler Morne Morkel who were ruled out of the key game due to injuries.
They were replaced by fast bowler Chris Morris and left-arm spinner Aaron Phangiso.
Kohli struck six boundaries and five sixes in his 23rd one-day century, the first after a gap of 13 innings since scoring the match-winning 107 against Pakistan in the World Cup match in Adelaide in February.
Left-hander Suresh Raina overcame his poor run of 3, 0, 0 in the previous three matches to score 53 off 52 balls and share a fourth-wicket stand of 127 with Kohli.
South Africa fought back towards the end of India’s innings, claiming five wickets for 33 runs after the hosts were cruising at 266-3 in the 45th over.
Fast bowlers Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada picked up three wickets each.
Quinton de Kock hit 43 off 35 to lift South Africa to 67-1 before Harbhajan struck twice and Axar Patel took one to make it 88-4 in the 18th over.
Farhaan Behardien helped his captain add 56 for the fifth wicket before he was leg-before to Amit Mishra for 22 in the 32nd over.
De Villiers reached 97 with a six off Harbhajan and brought up his 22nd one-day century — the fifth against India — with a straight six off Mishra.
But he fell in the 45th over, caught behind off Kumar, with his team still needing 67 runs off the last 33 balls. De Villiers hit 10 boundaries and two sixes.
Earlier, South Africa reduced India to 35-2 before Ajinkya Rahane (45) joined Kohli to add 104 for the third wicket.
Kohli reached his century by lofting Phangiso for a straight six in the 38th over, but he managed just 38 runs in the next 10 overs against steady bowling by the Proteas.
The match was officiated by Indian umpires at both ends after the International Cricket Council withdrew Aleem Dar of Pakistan for the last two games in Chennai and Mumbai due to security concerns.
The right-wing Shiv Sena party, known for its anti-Pakistan stand, had threatened to stop Dar from umpiring in the Mumbai match.