Faf du Plessis and Virat Kohli exchanged centuries in the first ODI in Durban, but it was India's captain who came out on top, inspiring his team to victory with yet another masterclass in how to chase down a total.
India cantered to a six-wicket victory in the first of a six-match ODI series against South Africa, with Virat Kohli (112) scoring his 33rd century in the format and Ajinkya Rahane (79) proving the perfect foil. The defeat ended South Africa's 17-match winning streak in home ODIs.
The visitors would have been chasing a much smaller total but for a superb captain's knock of his own from Faf du Plessis (120 from 112 deliveries) which carried his team to 269/8. After winning the toss and electing to bat, the Proteas skipper was the only batsman to pass 50 in an innings that spluttered along and only really kicked into life in the last 10 overs.
Hashim Amla (16) and Quinton de Kock had made an assured start on an overcast day until the former was trapped lbw by a Jasprit Bumrah delivery that came in on the angle. De Kock fell for 34 to the same mode of dismissal, to the leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal (2/45), but will regret not reviewing the decision, with replays showing the ball was missing leg stump.
Aiden Markram, playing in place of the injured AB de Villiers, got bogged down against the spinners in a period of play which went a long way to deciding the outcome of the game. Between overs 15 and 30, South Africa scored just 55 runs, with Markram becoming Chahal's second victim and JP Duminy and David Miller falling to the impressive left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav (3/34). Kuldeep's delivery to remove Duminy, who was bamboozled by one which spun the other way and knocked back middle stump, was a peach.
It was left to the all-rounders Chris Morris (37), playing his first ODI since the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy, and Andile Phehlukwayo (27*) to provide support to du Plessis, who brought up his half-century from 54 deliveries before giving it some long-handle in the death overs, dispatching Bhuvenshwar Kumar and Bumrah for towering sixes in consecutive overs.
It was not a total the South Africans would have been happy with at the toss but on a slowish pitch it looked competitive until Kohli's decisive intervention.
Rohit Sharma became the first batsman to score three ODI double-centuries when he struck 208* against Sri Lanka last December and he looked in ominous form as he carted Morne Morkel over square-leg and into the stands with his second scoring shot. However, his stay was a short one, falling for 20 after a skier off the same bowler was safely pouched by de Kock.
Shikhar Dhawan picked up the baton, cruising to a 29-ball 35, but he was sold a dummy by Kohli after an unsuccessful lbw appeal caused confusion and Aiden Markram threw down the stumps from backward point. Dhawan was clearly livid with his captain, but he couldn't stay angry for long.
Kohli had been given a life on 0 when du Plessis put down a very hard chance at first slip off Kagiso Rabada but from then on he was imperious, milking the dangerous Imran Tahir and upping the ante against Morris, who conceded 10 from his first over and proved expensive throughout. He eased to his fifty from 56 balls, finding a willing partner in Ajinkya Rahane, who scored his fifth ODI half-century in as many innings.
The pair put on 189 for the third wicket – a new ODI record at the venue – and Rahane looked on course for hundred of his own until he holed out to Tahir, giving Phehlukwayo his first wicket. A second soon followed when Kohli top-edged a slower bouncer to Rabada at fine leg but by then the captain's job was done. He has now scored 20 centuries at an average of 65.84 when batting second, with 18 of those hundreds coming in wins and at an average of 94.04.
MS Dhoni completed the chase with 4.3 overs to spare, giving India a 1-0 lead in a series which could see them leapfrog South Africa at the top of the MRF Tyres ICC ODI Rankings with a 4-2 win or better.