Yusuf Pathan launched the sort of assault that has made him a rich man to ensure it wasn't all one-way traffic in Centurion but it wasn't enough to prevent South Africa from snatching the series with a 33-run victory. After a tough tour over the past month-and-a-half, the last day of the series seemed set to be an anti-climactic non-scrap courtesy yet another Hashim Amla century and a slew of reckless strokes from the Indians.
Yusuf, though, blasted a century of utter violence when all looked lost at 119 for 8, and after an hour of Yusuf, the South African bowling was looking clueless and India were 49 short, dreaming of a miraculous win. Yusuf clubbed a 68-ball century but holed out soon after, much to the relief of the Sunday crowd at Supersport Park.
The tour had begun with South Africa's crushing Test victory in Centurion and ends with another defeat for the visitors at the same venue. One reason India's bowlers will be thrilled to be heading back home will be that there will be less sparring with Amla, who has plundered more than 1100 runs in the past 11 months against India in Tests and one-dayers. He collected another 116 on Sunday to push South Africa to a tall total in a rain-hit match.
MS Dhoni had chosen to bowl on winning the toss, perhaps swayed by Supersport Park's reputation of being a ground where it is easy to chase in day games. No matter what the past record, it is unlikely any team can win when its top order combusts so spectacularly and heedlessly as India's did. Barring Virat Kohli, the rest of the top six were dismissed not by unplayable deliveries but by attempts at extravagant strokes.
Rohit Sharma's horror series ended as he was bowled by Lonwabo Tsotsobe going for a loose drive through the line; Dhoni's imperious cut ended as an edge to first slip; Yuvraj Singh edged two boundaries to third man before giving catching practice to JP Duminy at point; Suresh Raina smashed a couple of fours before an upper cut sailed to third man; Parthiv Patel was the only one in the top order to inspire confidence, middling nearly every ball for the second innings in a row before falling to a debatable diving catch by Faf du Plessis at cover. India were 74 for 6 in the 14th over, and their only hope of saving the series seemed to be if the ominous clouds circling the stadium brought a massive downpour which washed away the match before the 20th over.
Enter Yusuf. He fell over reverse-sweeping Robin Peterson for a six early in his innings, but the wickets kept tumbling at the other end. With Zaheer Khan adopting a blithe step-away-and-swing approach, the end seemed minutes away, but he knuckled down after some initial scares and kept turning the strike over to Yusuf.
Indian fans would have nursed little hopes even when intermittent bursts of hitting took Yusuf to 66 off 58, and India climbed to 175 for 8 in the 33rd over. All that changed as Yusuf pounded four sixes and three fours in the next three overs to reach his century - so quickly that few realised he had reached the milestone till he raised his bat. That frenzy, through which Yusuf remained completely calm, ended with a 21-run over from Tsotsobe that brought the required-rate below five. Yusuf skied another attempted blast down the ground soon after, which du Plessis clasped to settle South African nerves.
Yusuf's ton was in absolute contrast to Amla's in the morning, when the South African chose patience over pyrotechnics to coolly compile his runs - he reached his half-century on the back of 30 consecutive singles. After Graeme Smith's troubles against Zaheer Khan continued, Amla let No. 3 Morne van Wyk be the aggressor. van Wyk grew in confidence as his innings progressed, unleashing a series of powerful cuts whenever he was given width, and even pulled off an audacious lap-shot off Munaf Patel for four.
India went in with only two quick bowlers, and their armada of spinners didn't pose too many questions to the South African batsmen. South Africa glided to 113 for 1 before Yuvraj plucked a spectacular caught-and-bowled to send back van Wyk, and had AB de Villiers stumped with a sharply turning delivery.
Amla and Duminy, the home side's two form batsmen this series, both had lives - Duminy surviving a close lbw shout and Amla dropped at square leg - and revived South Africa with a 102-run stand. The standout shot in Amla's innings was the dab to third man, perfectly timing the ball as he opened the face to pick up several boundaries, one of which brought up his century.
In the four overs that remained after an 80-minute stoppage, South Africa lost their heads and plenty of wickets as panicky running, smart bowling and attempted slogging combined to result in a collapse of 6 for 24. Amla played only two deliveries in those last four overs. India went in to lunch on a high, but there was little joy for them after the break barring Yusuf's heroics, and their dreams of a maiden series win in South Africa were shattered.