Centurion, Jan 24 (IANS) Yusuf Pathan struck a savage knock of 105 off 70 balls to give India a late hope but finally perished as the visitors lost by 33 runs to South Africa in a rain-curtailed fifth ODI and with it the closely-fought series 2-3 here Sunday.
Chasing 268 for victory as per Duckworth-Lewis calculations, India had all but lost the match at 119/8, but there was a final twist in the tale like it has been throughout the gruelling tour.
Pathan, living up to his reputation of one of the biggest hitters in the game, dealt in sixes and fours during his 70-ball innings and within no time India found themselves within striking distance of an improbable victory.
Pathan swung his bat like a gladiator, hitting eight sixes and as many fours and brought up 100 runs for the ninth wicket with Zaheer Khan (24). South African captain Graeme Smith was in for some anxious moments as Pathan went all out with his strokes, backed by rapturous cheers from the crowd.
It was Morne Morkel (4-52) who ended Pathan's innings when he mistimed the ball to be caught by Faf du Plessis.
With 49 runs needed in 64 balls, Zaheer and Munaf Patel narrowed the margin before India folded up for 234 in 40.2 overs.
Before Pathan came in the picture, the decider was fast turning out to be a lopsided affair with the hosts dictating terms right from the start and putting up 250 for nine on the board with in-form Hashim Amla scoring an unbeaten 116. India then lost wickets in heap and had surrendered in just 20 overs when they were seven down for 98.
Parthiv Patel (38) was the only top order batsman to stand up to the challenge of Dale Steyn (2-32), Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
Besides Pathan's heroics, the only time India put up a fight was when the bowlers struck back on resumption of play after rain.
South Africa were 226 for three in 42 overs and Amla and Jean Paul Duminy were all set to make the most of the slog overs when rain intervened.
However, at resumption the rain shortened the innings by four overs and the fortunes changed.
South Africa lost six wickets for the addition of 19 runs and India were in with a chance.
Munaf Patel (3-50) was the pick of the Indian attack. He caught and bowled Duminy in the first over after rain resumption and followed it up by snaring Faf du Plessis (8) and Johan Botha (2) in his next over.
The last over saw South Africa lose three wickets. Zaheer Khan (2-47) removed Robin Peterson while Dale Steyn and Morkel were run out. Amla fell short of partners at the other end.
Earlier, after being sent in, South Africa lost their captain Graeme Smith, dimissed by Yuvraj Singh (2-45), with a total of 16 runs.
Amla, who has been in brilliant form in the series, was again the cog of South African batting scoring 116 runs off 132 balls with nine boundaries.
Amla added 97-runs with Morne Van Wyk (56), laying the foundation of a big total.
Yuvraj also removed AB de Villiers caught by Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Amla and Jean Paul Duminy (35) then shared a 102-run stand for the fourth wicket to revive the innings.