Dharamsala: Rohit Sharma's blistering century went in vain as South Africa began their long tour of India on a winning note by scripting a thrilling seven-wicket victory in the first Twenty20 International cricket match here.
Sharma (106) notched up his maiden T20 International century to give India a competitive total of 199 for 5 but the visitors rode on some sparkling strokeplay by J P Duminy (68 not out) and A B de Villiers (51) to overhaul the target with two balls to spare and take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Test skipper Hashim Amla (36) and ODI skipper de Villiers laid the foundation of the SA win with their 77-run opening stand and Duminy guided the visiting side to the finish line with a sublime unbeaten 68 off just 34 balls. His 105-run unbeaten partnership for the fourth wicket with Farhaan Behardien (32 not out) sealed the game for the Proteas.
Left-handed Duminy played with a lot of responsibility under pressure and could not have timed his eighth fifty in T20Is better than this. Thanks to his gritty batting, South Africa collected 22 runs off Axar Patel in the 16th over and 14 when Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled the penultimate over.
Duminy hit Patel for three successive sixes and found a six and a four from Bhuvneshwar's first two balls as he stroked India out of the match. He punished the Indian bowlers with seven sixes.
Debutant left-arm paceman Sreenath Aravind was given the daunting task of bowling the last over from which the Proteas needed 10. Duminy ended India's thin hopes with a six in the third ball and strolled the winning run in the fourth.
The flat track at the HPCA Stadium as well as dew made it difficult for the bowlers to contain the batsmen and it was the Proteas who had the last laugh.
The two teams will now travel to Cuttack for the second T20 match of the series on October 5.
Earlier, Sharma was timing the ball beautifully. He completed his hundred with a breathtaking six off paceman Merchant de Lange. His fifty came off 40 balls and he needed only 22 more balls to get to the three-figure mark.
Sharma was slow to start but once he had gauged the pace of the wicket he plundered runs at will and became only the second Indian to score a T20 International hundred after Suresh Raina. His sensational 66-ball knock was packed with 12 fours and five sixes as he sent the visiting bowlers on a leatherhunt after being invited to bat at the scenic stadium.
Sharma struck effortlessly and raised a 138 run partnership for the second wicket with skipper Virat Kohli (43 off 27 balls), who became the first Indian to complete 1000 runs in Twenty20 cricket during his cameo.
Kyle Abbott stemmed the rot by dismissing Kohli first and then Sharma in the space of four balls. The opener went for a pull but managed an edge which was taken by Morris at long leg. By that time, India were cruising with the scorecard reading 162 in 16 overs.
Indian lost Raina (14) and Ambati Rayudu (0, run out) in the 19th over but skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (20 not out) helped India get close to 200. He finished the innings in style, hammering Abbott for a six.
The quick dismissal of Sharma and Kohli did affect India's ran rate as the hosts managed only 37 runs in the last four overs. Abbott was the only South African bowler who managed respectable figures as he gave away just 29 runs in his four overs.
The dew on the ground did make it tough for the bowlers but Sharma was in sublime form as he reduced the South African attack to a pedestrian one.
Rohit opened his account with an uppish cut in a tentative start as the lanky Abbott kept it outside off. He opened up after getting his eye in, pulling and driving Merchant de Lange effortlessly.
Shikhar Dhawan (3), who hardly got strike, was run out when he attempted a second following a mis-field from de Lange. Sharma though grew better and better. De Lange continued to dig in short and the Indian kept pulling him. He did not spare even Chris Morris and smashed him for a six on the leg side after getting a boundary off a drive.
Faf du Plessis introduced Imran Tahir as India put on board 46 after six power-play overs. The leg-spinner bowled a tight over but the pacers kept leaking runs. This time it was Kohli's turn to inflict some damage as he hammered Morris for a six and followed it up with a boundary.
Sharma completed his half-century when he guided a short and bouncy one from Abbott to third man boundary. One ball later, he played a scoop for leg-side boundary as India put on board 86 after half-way stage.
Tahir came in for some punishment from the two batsmen as they collected 21 runs from the 12th over. Sharma sent the first ball soaring over the ropes to bring up team's 100 and in the third ball Kohli heaved him over deep mid-wicket to complete his 1000 T20 international runs. The skipper followed it with a flat six in long-off area.
The Proteas too made a strong start, reaching 72 for none in just seven overs with de Villiers and Amla going hammer and tongs. Like Sharma, they too took full advantage of the flat pitch and were easily managing a run-rate of 10 per over.
Dhoni used four bowlers in the first seven overs but success was nowhere to be seen as the Proteas raced to 72 in no time.
The tide started to turn a bit in India's favour after the run out of Amla in the eighth over. De Villiers drove off-spinner R Ashwin on the leg side, looking for two. He was quick but Amla struggled to reach his crease before Mohit Sharma's solid throw from square leg.
It was again in Ashwin's over that India got their second wicket. De Villiers charged down the wicket, missed the turning ball, which hit the leg stump. His 51 came off 32 balls with seven fours and a six.
Now the Proteas had two fresh batsmen at the crease -- skipper Faf du Plessis and Duminy -- and Dhoni attacked more by employing slip fielder when spinners operated. India's hopes rose when Aravind bowled du Plessis, who dragged one on to his stumps.
Duminy though got a good ally in Behardien as the two took their side closer to target. They needed 66 from last five and Duminy put the pressure back on the Indians by hitting three successive sixes off Axar Patel. That over fetched Proteas 22 runs. Duminy kept going in the same vein and scripted a memorable win for his side.