Chennai, Oct 22 (IANS) Powered by a superb ton from Virat Kohli, India defeated South Africa by 35 runs in their fourth and penultimate One-Day International (ODI) at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium here on Thursday, to level the series 2-2.
Coming in at the fall of Rohit Sharma, Kohli was a part of a couple of crucial 100-plus partnerships with Ajinkya Rahane and Suresh Raina to help the hosts produce a total of 299/8 in 50 overs. Kohli scored 138 off 140 balls before falling to Kasigo Rabada.
It was the 23rd ODI century for Kohli who reached three figures with a six over long on off young pacer Aaron Phansigo.
In reply, South Africa could only manage to score 264/9 despite a defiant century from A.B. Devilliers who scored 112 from 107 deliveries.
The Indian bowlers produced a disciplined performance and managed to restrict the scoring rates despite taking some stick in the initial overs. Pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar leaked runs in his first spell but came back strongly later on to return figures of 3/68.
Experienced off-spinner Harbhajan Singh (2/50), left-arm spinner Axar Patel (1/40), pacer Mohit Sharma (1/48) and leg-spinner Amit Mishra (1/55) also bowled well.
Electing to bat on winning the toss, India produced a strong batting performance despite losing a couple of early wickets. Apart from Kohli, Raina and Rahane were also in good knick. Raina, who has not been at his best so far in this series, finally brought his poor run to an end, scoring 53 runs off 52 deliveries with three boundaries and a six.
Rahane, who was caught behind off Dale Steyn while on 45, was unlucky to miss out on what would have been a well-deserved half-century.
The South African fast bowlers continued their fine show with rookie pacer Rabada and Steyn picking up three wickets each.
Rabada was impressive with his pace and movement to return figures of 3-54 while Steyn lapped up the Indian middle-order for 3-61. Pacer Chris Morris (1-55) also clinched a wicket.
Sharma came up with a flurry of early boundaries. But the Mumbai batsman took one risk too many as he flicked Chris Morris uppishly off his pads only to see Faf du Plesis dive to his right for a low catch.
Shikhar Dhawan did not look too comfortable during his 15-ball stay in the middle before he connected a short ball on the leg stump by Rabada and Quinton de Kock pulled off a nice catch behind the stumps.
That saw Rahane walk to the middle and the right-hander proceeded to put together a 104-run stand with Kohli to put the Indian innings back on track.
Steyn put an end to the partnership by getting rid of Rahane with the first ball of his second spell. Rahane misjudged the bounce of an incoming delivery to offer an inside edge to de Kock.
Raina and Kohli kept the scoreboard ticking with some excellent running between the wickets and the occasional boundary.
Raina, who was lucky to get a let off while on 48, pushed Imran Tahir to long on to complete his half-century later in the over. But he did not survive long as Steyn got him in the very next over with another short delivery.
Kohli was on fire at the other end. Once the Delhi right-hander had reached his century, he started to go after the bowling before he tried to pull Rabada but only managed to offer an easy edge to de Kock.
Rabada claimed the wicket of Harbhajan Singh with the very next ball and Dhoni smashed Steyn into the hands of de Villiers at long off as the Proteas managed to prevent the hosts from producing a strong finish.
South Africa were off to a brisk start before Hashim Amla smashed Mohit straight to Dhawan at midwicket.
De Kock and du Plesis played the Indian pacers quite comfortably before the introduction of the spinners put the brakes. Harbhajan surprised de Kock with one that turned sharply after pitching for Rahane to take an easy catch at second slip.
The visitors continued to lose wickets at regular intervals with Harbhajan and Mishra extracting appreciable turn from the pitch.
De Villiers was the only Proteas batsman who gave a good account of himself. The right-hander waged a lone battle even as wickets continued to fall at the other end at the other end at regular intervals.
He produced a 56-run partnership with Farhaan Behardien before the latter was trapped leg before by Mishra. But that did nothing to deter deVilliers who continued to torment the Indian bowlers.
He brought up his century in style, charging out to hit Mishra for a six. His gutsy innings gave South Africa a glimmer of hope, before Bhuvneshwar finally got him with a bouncer to which his attempted pull found the upper edge for an easy catch to Mahendra Singh Dhoni.