Dinesh Karthik produced one of his finest T20 knocks with a sensational 55 (27b, 9×4, 2×6) to set up a thumping 82-run win for India over South Africa and level the five-match series 2-2 in the fourth T20I at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Rajkot on Friday.
When Karthik walked in to bat in the 13th over, India was in deep trouble at 81 for four after being asked to bat first on a tricky pitch that had some assistance for the fast bowlers with variable bounce.
He had good support from Hardik Pandya, who gave the innings the initial momentum with his quickfire 46 (31b, 3×4, 3×6).
The duo added 65 runs off just 33 balls for the fifth wicket as India finished strongly on 169 for six from 56 for three at the halfway stage.
Once he got his eye in, Karthik flourished in the final phase of the innings as he swept the spinners and pacers with elan in his breezy knock as India managed 73 in the last five overs.
Karthik first went after Anrich Nortje, finding two boundaries through the off-side before launching into Keshav Maharaj by hitting the left-arm spinner for three consecutive boundaries in the 17th over, using both the sweep and reverse-sweep to good effect.
In the very next over, Karthik went after Dwaine Pretorius by walking across to the off-stump to sweep the medium-pacer over the leg side for a six and a four as the bowler missed his length by bowling too full
The 37-year-old Tamil Nadu batter then got to his maiden T20I half-century in style with a six, over mid-wicket in the final over off Pretorius.
Needing 170 to win the series, South Africa’s chase never took off. Skipper Temba Bavuma had to retire after hurting his left elbow while diving to complete a run at the start of the fourth over.
Quinton de Kock, who returned after recovering from a wrist injury, hit a few boundaries off Hardik but was run out after a mix-up with Pretorius. Avesh Khan (four for 14) soon had Pretorius caught behind while Yuzvendra Chahal accounted for Heinrich Klaasen leg-before-wicket.
Harshal Patel then had the dangerous David Miller for the second time this series, castling him with a delivery that just angled across the left-hander.
Rassie van der Dussen and Marco Jansen tried to put up some fight, but Avesh struck thrice in the 14th over to remove the duo and seal the tie in India’s favour.
Earlier, the South African seamers exploited the conditions well by targeting the good-length areas with the two-paced nature of the wicket now allowing the Indian batters to hit through the line.
Lungi Ngidi, who replaced Kagiso Rabada, struck in his first over when he had Ruturaj Gaikwad caught at slip with the extra bounce. In the fourth over, Marco Jansen, replacing Wayne Parnell, had Shreyas Iyer trapped leg-before-wicket with a ball that seamed into the right-hander.
Just after the PowerPlay, Ishan Kishan who looked good for his 27, tried to ramp Nortje over the wicketkeeper and the extra bounce had him edging to keeper de Kock. After struggling to get going, Pant yet again perished trying to hit a wide delivery outside off-stump from Maharaj only to top-edge it to the short-third man fielder.
Fortunately, for the Men in Blue, Hardik and Karthik stepped up to the challenge and took the game away from the Proteas to ensure India lived another day to fight and forced the series into a decider in Bengaluru on Sunday.