Arshdeep Singh and Deepak Chahar hit the South Africans hard with some magical swing bowling before Suryakumar Yadav's little gem on a difficult track ensured an easy eight-wicket victory for India in the first T20 International here on Wednesday.
A target of 107 on a pitch with underlying moisture and more than waist high bounce at times was a struggle before Suryakumar (50 not out in 33 balls) released the pressure created by KL Rahul (51 not out, 56 balls) as India won the game in 16.4 overs to go 1-0 up in three-match series.
The pitch that former India head coach Ravi Shastri on air termed "not ideal for T20 cricket" had batters of both teams finding it difficult to cope with both pace and movement.
It was Arshdeep (3/32) and Chahar (2/24), who basically clinched the issue for India within first 15 deliveries of the start after skipper Rohit Sharma called it right at the toss. Once South Africa were reeling at 9/5 in 2.3 overs, the game as a contest was over and 106/8 even on a difficult track was a sub-par score.
The South Africans did bowl their heart out in defence.
Kagiso Rabada bowled an ideal Test match delivery that pitched on length and reared up while moving a shade and all Rohit Sharma (0) could do was to dangle his bat at the corridor of uncertainty.
Virat Kohli (3) got an express delivery from Anrich Nortje that kept climbing as he tried to have a go away from his body and the edge was taken by Quinton de Kock.
Surya, India's best T20 batter by a distance, got a streaky six when his attempted flick turned into an outside edge that flew over third-man for a maximum off Nortje.
The next six was a picture-perfect whip over deep square leg and then an inside out six off Keshav Maharaj indicated that he is India's in-form man.
Rahul's batting at the other end on the same strip became an ordeal as India had their lowest ever Powerplay score on board.
Just that there was no scoreboard pressure, Rahul could once play his waiting game and the only shot worth appreciating was a six off Nortje.
Earlier, Arshdeep and Chahar made the white Kookaburra talk with some incisive swing bowling after Jasprit Bumrah pulling out of the game due to his recurrent back problem which has resurfaced yet again.
The duo moved the ball both ways, making full use of the nip in the air and the bounce off the surface.
Temba Bavuma (0) was nicely set up by Chahar with stock outswingers, which the skipper left alone before a banana inswinger had him bowled through the gate. The deviation into the batter was as big as it could be.
Arshdeep started by taking the ball shade away from the left-hander and Quinton de Kock (1) in his bid to get a move-on dragged one back onto the stumps.
The other left-hander Rilee Rossouw (0) also chased a wide outswinger (inswinger by the bowler) to nick one to Rishabh Pant behind the stumps.
But it was the delivery by Arshdeep to David Miller (0) that will be remembered for a long time to come.
Miller was anticipating an outswinger and had committed on the front-foot only to find that the bowler had got one to bend back into him. His atrocious across-the-line shot would have resulted in only one thing and that was getting castled.
New T20 sensation Tristan Stubbs (0) didn't get enough wood to his slash over deep to a delivery from Chahar that bounced a shade more. The result was Arshdeep taking a well-judged catch diving in-front.
With five wickets gone, there was no coming back for South Africa and predictably there wasn't any change in the script.
KL Rahul and Suryakumar Yadav (R) after finishing it off in style PTI Picture
Team got to learn a lot: Rohit
After the match, Team India skipper expressed happiness that his team got to "learn a lot" in their eight-wicket victory over South Africa in a low-scoring chase on a "tricky track" in the first T20 International.
Suryakumar Yadav's unbeaten 50 off 33 balls ensured that India didn't face too many hiccups despite KL Rahul's struggles on a track where South Africa were left tottering at 9/5 at the start of the game.
"The wicket was tricky. You learn a lot playing such a game. You understand what the team needs to do in tough conditions. It was nice to play a game like that. We knew the bowlers will get something seeing grass on the pitch, but we didn't expected help for the full 20 overs," Rohit said at the post-match presentation ceremony.
Rohit admitted that the pitch was a bit damp and that made South Africa stay in contest despite a paltry score of 106/8.
"It was still damp. Both teams were in the contest and the team that played better won the game. We started well, got five wickets in quick time and that was the turning point. It was a perfect showcase of how to bowl when there is help for the pacers."
While Rahul scored a half-century (51) off 56 balls, Rohit said that one got to respect the conditions.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy. Got to respect the conditions. Lost two wickets and that partnership between KL and Surya got us home."
'Surya's attacking batting helped me take my time'
KL Rahul, whose scratchy batting got papered over by Suryakumar Yadav's regal half-century, said that his partner's attacking intent allowed him to take his own time.
It was because of Rahul's struggles, India scored only 17 in six Powerplay overs but Surya's imperious form didn't allow South Africa to make a comeback.
"Definitely, right up there (as the toughest pitch)," Rahul said when asked if it was the toughest strip he has batted on in T20Is.
"We have played in some difficult conditions like this but I haven't got runs. So this was hard work."
He was all praise for Surya's approach.
"It was unbelievable for Surya to come out there and play those shots. we have seen how balls were flying, nipping around, two-paced and everything that can be hard for a batter that was the wicket today.
"And for Surya to come with that approach after the first ball that hit him, he just woke up and wanted to play his shots, be aggressive and take on the bowling. That helped me take my time and play one end."
Rahul said that he expected the track to do a bit but not to the extent it did.
"Not that much. We did practice here yesterday and that was a humbling experience as well, we all came in prepared mentally as it was not going to be an easy wicket and I was ready to do the dirty work, ready to be challenged and get the job done for the team."
Rahul also praised young Arshdeep Singh, whose three wickets in his first over set-up the game.
"He's (Arshdeep) growing with each game and with each outing he gets better, he is somebody who has a big heart and I have seen him in close quarters while playing in the IPL. This season what he did for his franchise was phenomenal and to be the number one death bowler in a team (Punjab Kings) which has Rabada speaks highly of him.
"We always want a left-arm seamer and it is great to have someone like Arshdeep."
India: Rohit Sharma(c), KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant(w), Dinesh Karthik, Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Harshal Patel, Deepak Chahar, Arshdeep Singh.
South Africa: Quinton de Kock(w), Temba Bavuma(c), Rilee Rossouw, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Tristan Stubbs, Wayne Parnell, Kagiso Rabada, Keshav Maharaj, Anrich Nortje, Tabraiz Shamsi.