VISAKHAPATNAM: India ticked all the boxes when it mattered the most and crushed South Africa by 48 runs in the must-win third T20 International to stay alive in the five-match series here on Tuesday.
Yuzvendra Chahal (3/20) and Harshal Patel (4/25) led the way with the ball after sizzling half-centuries from Ruturaj Gaikwad (57) and Ishan Kishan (54) powered India to 179 for five.
The bowlers came good after opener Gaikwad turned things around with a scintillating knock and Ishan scored his second fifty of the series.
Under the scanner for his patchy form of late, Gaikwad hit two maximums and seven fours in his 35-ball knock, and Ishan too scored his runs in 35 balls after being asked to take first strike.
Defending the total, skipper Rishabh Pant introduced the spinners early and Axar Patel produced the first breakthrough with a fuller delivery as Temba Bavuma (8) holed out to Avesh Khan in the 4th over.
Chahal was rewarded for bowling quick as he got extra bounce from the wicket to get the better of Rassie van der Dussen (1), Dwaine Pretorius (20) and Heinrich Klassen (29).
Harshal mixed his deliveries well to first remove Reeza Hendricks (23) and David Miller (3) and then returned to finish things off with the wickets of Kagiso Rabada (9) and Tabraiz Shamsi (0) as South Africa were bundled out for 131.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar (1/21) too bowled with a lot of heart.
Earlier, Gaikwad and Ishan hit two sixes each and shared 12 boundaries to set the platform but South Africa tightened the screws in the second half to keep India inside 180.
It was Gaikwad, who turned aggressor after a watchful start and exploded in the fifth over, slamming five successive boundaries off Anrich Nortje.
If the first one was cut with aplomb, he danced down the track for the second four.
The third boundary was a lucky one as the ball hit his grill while Gaikwad tried to move away from a nasty bouncer.
Gaikwad then punished Nortje for bowling a half volley and the fifth ball was sent across the third man.
The Maharashtra batter also deposited Dwaine Pretorius over deep backward square for his second six as India posted 57 for no loss in six overs, their best powerplay in the series.
Ishan, who was playing second fiddle, got into the act in the ninth over, smacking Shamsi’s overpitched ball for a maximum before sweeping him for another four as 13 runs came from the over.
Gaikwad completed his fifty in 30 balls and then welcomed Keshav Maharaj with an inside out lift for a four, but the spinner had him caught off his own bowling with India on 97 for one at the halfway stage.
Ishan then gave a special treatment to Maharaj, picking up two fours and a six en route a 31-ball fifty, his second of the series.
New-man Shreyas Iyer looked in good touch as he blasted a six each off Nortje and Shamsi, but the spinner dismissed him with Nortje timing his jump to perfection for a nice catch.
Pretorius pegged India further back by getting rid off Ishan, who was caught by Hendricks.
It could have been five down but David Miller and Rassie van der Dussen dropped two sitters to give a lives to Hardik Pandya (29) and Rishabh Pant (6).
Temba Bavuma finally caught one off Pretorius to remove Pant as South Africa slowed things down.
The hosts managed just 20 runs while losing two wickets from over 13 to 17 before Hardik Pandya took them close to 180 with some lusty blows in the final stages.