India cruised to a comfortable six-wicket victory over South Africa in the second one-day international at the M A Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore on Saturday, to level the five-match series 1-1.
Batting first, South Africa were bowled out for a lowly 169 for 9 in their 50 overs; the target never really bothered the Indian batting line-up.
Virender Sehwag led India's reply with a quickfire 77 from 62 balls to end South Africa's unbeaten run of 20 matches.
Irfan Pathan again proved his all-round abilities, scoring 37 at number three, while also claiming three early wickets.
Pathan gave India early command in the day-night encounter, claiming the wickets of AB de Villiers, Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis in his first spell to reduce South Africa to 20 for 3.
Thereafter, the Indian spinners took charge on a pitch that offered them lot of assistance, as no South African batsman could cross 40.
The top scorer for South Africa was Andrew Hall, who made 32, while Ashwell Prince (30) was the other batsman to reach the 30-run mark.
Harbhajan Singh's spin, and the variations he employed, proved too hot to handle. He took two wickets for 33 runs in his 10 overs and received good support from Sehwag, who claimed 2 for 29 in his eight overs.
South Africa innings:
India captain Rahul Dravid, who elected to field after winning the toss, opted to retain the team that was beaten in the first match of the series. The decision to field first was heavily based on the dew factor, which is likely to affect the bowlers in the second half.
The hosts boast of a good record at this venue, having won eight one-dayers here, and lost four. Meanwhile, South Africa are on a high after their victory at Hyderabad and the 20-match unbeaten streak under their belt.
It was India, though, who delivered the first blow. Irfan Pathan struck as early as the first over of the match, when AB de Villiers flicked straight to Harbhajan Singh on the leg-side. The South African opener was lucky to survive earlier in the over, when his attempted drive on the off-side went in the air and just evading a diving Yuvraj Singh at backward point. (4-1, 0.5)
Pathan then extracted revenge from South Africa captain Graeme Smith, when he trapped him leg before wicket. Smith once again shuffled across his stumps, but missed the ball completely and was struck right in front on the pads, the easiest of the decisions for an umpire to make. (14-2, 4.1)
Smith was lucky to be given not out to a similar appeal in the first match in Hyderabad, after which he tore into the left-arm pacer. So it was not surprising when a fully charged Pathan gave the visiting skipper some tips on his way back to the pavilion.
Pathan then dealt the visitors a severe blow when he claimed the wicket of Jacques Kallis. The mainstay of the South Africa batting line-up was caught behind by wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni as he attempted to slash at a wide, out-swinging delivery, but could only edge it. (20-3, 6.3)
South Africa were under the hammer straightaway and the focus was now on Andrew Hall and Ashwell Prince to rescue them from the early jolts, as they reached 34 for 3 after 10 overs.
Harbhajan was introduced in the 14th over of the innings and he immediately got some turn as was expected. In his first over he nearly trapped Prince in front of the wickets, but the umpire was not convinced, though it looked that the ball pitched on leg stump and would have hit the off-stump.
Hall's discomfort against Harbhajan was obvious and the off-spinner didn't take long to strike. The all-rounder, on 32, played straight to Mohammad Kaif at short leg to spell further trouble for the visitors. (57-3, 16)
Even Murali Kartik got some purchase from the wicket but was unlucky not to get a wicket in his first over when the edge from Mark Boucher just fell short of Rahul Dravid at first slip, in the 22nd over.
The pressure was beginning to build as the South Africans found it difficult to even steal singles off the spinners. The top class fielding worsened matters for the Proteas, as both the spinners bowled three consecutive maiden overs, from the 24th to 26th, as the score stayed at 82 for 4 for quite some time.
Part-time spinner Virender Sehwag struck with his first delivery when he dismissed Boucher leg before wicket. Runs were hard to come by and Boucher took a big stride and tried to sweep the bowler, but was struck on the pad just on the off-stump line and ruled out by umpire A V Jayaprakash. (85-5, 27.1).
He nearly accounted for the hard-hitting Justin Kemp, beating him with a straighter delivery, but, yet again, the ball fell short of Dravid at slip.
Sehwag scalped Prince in his next over after he tempted the left-hander to hit over mid-off, but the ball traveled to Harbhajan. Prince tried to play the anchor role, scoring 30 from 69 balls, but lost patience and gifted his wicket away. (96-6, 29.5)
It was in sharp contrast from the first match in Hyderabad, where India were at the receiving end of the stick before Yuvraj Singh steered the lower order to guide India to a respectable total. Here the South Africans missed someone of that quality.
It remained to be seen whether all-rounders Justin Kemp and Shaun Pollock would come to the party and salvage the situation for the Proteas.
Just 25 runs came in the 10-over spell between the 30th and 40th over as South Africa crawled to 121 for 6, still struggling to read the spinners.
Kartik, who was unlucky not pick a wicket, bowled his 10 overs on the trot, giving away just 16 runs, with four maidens to his credit.
Just to give you a rough idea of how much the pitch was helping spinners, Dravid introduced part-time Yuvraj Singh as late as the 43rd over against the likes of the dangerous duo of Kemp and Pollock. Sure the Indian captain knew that the batsmen would try to launch the left-arm spinner, but Yuvraj's slow pace would make it very difficult to use the long handle against him.
Kemp finally employed the big shot, when he tried to hoist Harbhajan over the midwicket fence, but his effort fell short and R P Singh at the boundary line completed a brilliant catch.
Kemp, known for his big shots, was a pale shadow of himself and never looked comfortable against the spinners. He finally perished trying to lift the scoring rate. He made 28 from 59 balls, with just three boundaries, and was involved in a slow 47-run partnership for the seventh wicket with Pollock. (143-7, 45.5)
Even Yuvraj would have been among the wickets as Johan Botha's edge flew past Dravid at first slip into the boundary ropes. Pollock brought some cheer to the visitors when he charged Harbhajan and carted him for a six over midwicket, but even that was not enough to help them reach a decent total.
He tried to repeat the dose on Yuvraj, trying to hit him over the square leg, but missed the ball and it ended up crashing into his stumps. Pollock played a painstaking innings of 29 from 61 balls and, just like the other batsmen before, struggled throughout his stay in the middle. (158-8, 48.5)
Agarkar bowled Makhaya Ntini with a perfect yorker that knocked out the middle stump with the final ball of the innings.
South Africa ended with a lowly 169 for 9 in their 50 overs, not a single batsman registering a half-century.
The top scorer for the visitors was Hall, with 32, while Prince struggled for most part of his innings of 30.
But the day belonged to the Indian bowlers, who never let the South Africans off the hook. Pathan started the rout with the three-wicket bust at the top and thereafter it was the spinners, who made merry on the turning track.
Pathan finished with 3 for 32 in his six overs, while Harbhajan (2 for 33) and Sehwag (2 for 29) also bowled important spells to give their team a good chance of leveling the series, after losing the first match in Hyderabad.
It remains to be seen whether the South African spinners will get the same amount of turn from the pitch and whether they will be able to exert their domination. They will be hampered by the dew, which is expected in the second session, making it difficult to grip the ball.
India opted for a new opening combination in Sachin Tendulkar and left-hander Supersub Gautam Gambhir, who replaced R P Singh. Sehwag hasn't been in good form lately and it prompted the team management not to send him out against the new ball.
The move may have been India's strategy to surprise the visitors a little bit, as they could have mentally prepared on how to bowl at Tendulkar and Sehwag.
But the South African opening bowlers -- Pollock and Ntini -- started in aggressive fashion, as the first three overs were maidens. Even the Indian openers struggled to rattle the scoreboard as they reached 7 for no loss after five overs, with just one boundary to Gambhir.
Tendulkar's 356th one-day international did not prove to a fruitful one as he was dismissed for 2. In his bid to break the shackles, he charged down the wicket to Pollock and tried to loft him straight, but was caught at mid-on. (13-1, 8.1)
Andre Nel's first over was full of drama as he and Gambhir exchanged a few words, which stopped after the umpires intervened. Nel seemed shocked as Gambhir gave him a befitting reply, both with the bat and his lips. The two boundaries by Gambhir also brought some cheer to the huge crowd as India progressed to 25 for 1 after 10 overs.
Pathan, who played two explosive knocks at number three in the series against Sri Lanka, was once again promoted. The obvious aim would have been to attack the bowling, which was on top then, and make things easier for the middle order.
Gambhir counterattacked after the initial onslaught by the South African bowlers. He was rewarded with some luck for his bravery as an edge off his bat went past the slip fielder in the 15th over by off-spinner Johan Botha.
He, however, was run out on 38 after trying to steal a tight run on the off-side. The two batsmen never clicked when it came to running between the wickets and after a few missed chances, South Africa finally got the wicket. (52-2, 16.3)
Sehwag, dropped down the order, started in confident fashion by lofting Botha over the cover region for a boundary as the fielders crowded around the new batsmen. In the next over, Pathan showed scant respect for Nel's pace by dispatching him straight down the ground for a huge six.
Another mix-up resulted in the fall of the third wicket as Pathan was found short of his ground after a direct hit from Justin Ontong. The left-hander made 37 from 58 balls and added 53 runs for the third wicket with Sehwag. (105-3, 26.4)
Sehwag got better and better during his stay in the middle and took a particular liking for off-spinner Botha, whom he hit for five boundaries, scoring 25 runs from 15 balls. He reached his half-century, his 19th in ODIs, from 48 balls, including seven boundaries as India reached 141 for 3 in the 32nd over, chasing down the target at a rapid rate.
The South African spinners found the conditions difficult, the dew making gripping the ball difficult, as compared to their Indian counterparts, who relished them in the first half of the match.
Supersub Justin Ontong gave South Africa something to smile in the end as he took the wicket of Rahul Dravid. The Indian captain fell to a soft dismissal when he tried to turn the ball on the leg side but the leading edge went back to the bowler. (155-4, 34)
Sehwag made light work of the chase as he finished off the match with a flurry of boundaries to finish unbeaten on 77 from 62 balls, with eleven boundaries.
Yuvraj Singh creamed a boundary through the covers as India reached 171 for 4 to win by six wickets, with 14.2 overs to spare.
It was a dominating performance by India, both with the bat and ball, to bounce back from the defeat in the first match at Hyderabad and level the series at 1-1.
Only Pollock, at the start, made some impression, but once India got through the initial few overs, there were no real problems in the run chase. Both the spinners - Botha (47 runs in 8 overs) and Ontong (28 runs in 2.4 overs) proved to be too expensive, while going wicketless and failing to create even the slightest of impression, something that should prove vital in the forthcoming matches.
The victory also ended South Africa's unbeaten run of 21 matches, setting up a thrilling series with three matches to go. The next match of the series, another day-night affair, will be played in Chennai on November 22 and don't be surprised if you see another pitch favouring the spinners.