INDORE: Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni led from the front as the hosts fought back to stun South Africa by 22 runs in the second one-day international in Indore on Wednesday.
India, restricted to 247-9 after electing to take first strike in good batting conditions, hit back to bowl South Africa out for 225 and level the five-match series 1-1.
A relentless display of pace and spin bowling by the tourists had reduced India to 124-6 before Dhoni smashed an unbeaten 92 off 86 balls to help the hosts recover to a more respectable total.
Dhoni added 41 for the seventh wicket with Bhuvneshwar Kumar (14) and 56 for the eighth with Harbhajan Singh (22).
The skipper finished with four sixes, including one off the final delivery from young paceman Kagiso Rabada, and seven boundaries.
Dhoni then marshalled his limited resources astutely as left-arm spinner Axar Patel and seamer Kumar grabbed three wickets each and Virat Kohli took three good catches to fashion the unexpected win.
Having lost the opening encounter in Kanpur by five runs, India go into Sunday’s third international in Rajkot on level terms and looking increasingly confident.
Dhoni, who was named man of the match, took a swipe at critics who had demanded that he be sacked as captain after recent losses in limited-overs cricket.
‘Not a convincing win’
“It was not an easy game to play,” he said. “A lot of people wait with open swords and want you to make mistakes.
“Overall, it was not a very convincing win. We can play a lot better than this. We´re not playing to our potential, not even 80 percent, either in batting or in bowling.
“We should have got more runs on the board, but our spinners did well upfront and the seamers too joined the action.”
South Africa´s captain AB de Villiers complimented India for the victory, but said his team had batted poorly.
“Credit to India, they pulled it off across the line,” he said. “The target was manageable, but it was a poor batting performance from us. We had a good start but could not keep that going.
“You have to stay positive whatever the total you are chasing. We could not execute the chase well.”
Faf du Plessis was the lone batsman to shine for the tourists with 51 as the rest of the batting succumbed under the pressure applied by Dhoni´s men under lights.
The Proteas were sailing along at a comfortable 134-2, following a 82-run stand between du Plessis and JP Duminy, when India bounced back with three wickets in the space of 15 deliveries.
Patel trapped Duminy leg-before for 36 and had du Plessis offering a catch to Kohli in the covers, before Kumar forced David Miller to edge his first delivery to Dhoni behind the stumps.
Kohli then dived to his left in the covers to pick up a superb catch that removed danger man de Villiers for 19 and made South Africa 167-6 in the 33rd over.
Farhaan Behardien (18) and Rabada (19 not out) attempted to pull South Africa out of trouble, but India held their nerves in front of a sell-out crowd of 27,000 home fans.
Earlier, fiery pace spearhead Dale Steyn claimed 3-49 and fellow fast bowler Morne Morkel and leg-spinner Imran Tahir chipped in with two wickets each to restrict the Indian batsmen.
Ajinkya Rahane was the only other batsman besides Dhoni to shine with 51.
South Africa had won the preceding Twenty20 series 2-0. The one-dayers will be followed by four Test matches.