Karthik and Avesh Khan shine as India defeats South Africa to level the series 2-2

As India thrashed South Africa by 82 runs on Friday to tie the five-match series at 2-2, Dinesh Karthik produced memorable innings before Avesh Khan gave his father a “great birthday gift” with a scorching spell.

Karthik (55 off 27) hit his first fifty in T20 cricket over 16 years after making his debut, and he and vice-captain Hardik Pandya (46 off 31) guided India to a spirited 169 for six.

South Africa’s hitters struggled for the second game in a row, falling to 87 for nine in 16.5 overs, with captain Temba Bavuma retiring injured.

Avesh (4/18) was the star of India’s excellent bowling exhibition, recording career-best numbers. In T20 Internationals in India, it was an away team’s lowest total.

As South Africa slid to 35 for two in the powerplay, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Avesh shone with the new ball. Temba Bavuma (8) hurt his left elbow with a dive on the run after taking a blow to the shoulder and had to leave the field. He didn’t even show up for the post-game awards ceremony.

Quinton de Kock (14) was run out after receiving a ‘yes and no’ from Dwaine Pretorious at the other end after missing the previous two games due to a wrist injury.

Even in the second innings, the surface remained tough to bat on, with the oddball gripping and rising sharply from a decent length, making strokeplay difficult.

READ MORE: Nehra says team management doesn’t completely trust Avesh Khan

With wickets falling frequently, South Africa could never get into the chase. On Sunday, the series will be decided in Bengaluru.

The Indians had been battling at 81 for four when a 65-run partnership between Hardik and Karthik got them back into the game. In the final five overs, India managed to score 73 runs.

Despite the absence of their leading bowler Kagiso Rabada due to injury, South Africa put the Indians on the back foot in the powerplay after winning their fourth toss in as many games.

Wayne Parnell was the other pacer who missed out owing to injury, but star opener Quinton de Kock returned at the cost of Reeza Hendricks.

India’s problems were exacerbated by the first ball after the powerplay, as the hosts were reduced to 40 for three in 6.1 overs.

Ishan Kishan scored 27 off 26 with some great strokes and was removed on the first ball of Anrich Nortje’s first stint.

The southpaw attempted to steer a short ball to third base but ended up in a difficult position, top-edging the ball to de Kock.

In the series, India’s top three have struggled against high-quality speed, which was also evident here.

After the additional bounce from Lungi Ngidi prompted the outside edge, Ruturaj Gaikwad, who had gained form in the previous game, was the first to go.

Iyer, who has struggled with the short ball in this series, misjudged an excellent length pitch from Marco Jansen that pitched on the center and seamed back a touch.

To send Iyer back to the hut, the Proteas had to rely on a DRS review for an LBW, handing Jansen his maiden T20 wicket.

With a 41-run partnership after the powerplay, captain Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya propelled the innings forward.

Throughout the series, Indian batters have targeted South Africa’s weak link, the spinners, and that pattern continued on Friday.

Hardik Pandya smashed Tabraiz Shamsi for consecutive sixes, while Rishabh Pant struggled to find his range on the other end.

However, facing a wide ball, India’s captain went for the big one again, resulting in his demise. Maharaj bowled wide on this occasion, and Pant accepted the bait, only to edge it back to short third man.

Pant fell to a ball wide of the off-stump for the fourth time in the series.

Hardik and Karthik combined for a game-changing stand, with Karthik sweeping his way to a stunning knock.

The master of comebacks eventually completed his first half-century after making his T20 debut in December 2006, when India played their first game in the shortest format.

To achieve the majority of his boundaries against spinners and pacers, Karthik relied on sweeps — conventional towards square-leg, slogs over cow corner, and reverse over ’45’ both against spinners and pacers.

The slog sweep from bowler Dwaine Pretorius that soared over deep square leg was the most appealing stroke of his innings.