India's inexplicable middle-order collapse ensured that fine half-centuries from Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli did not count for much as the team was handed a 31-run defeat by a resolute South Africa in the opening ODI in Paarl on Wednesday.
Chasing a challenging 297, India were cruising at 138 for one before wickets fell in a heap dashing the hopes of the visitors who trail 0-1 in the three-match series. India's innings ended at 265 for eight.
South Africa skipper Temba Bavuma (110 off 143) and Rassie van der Dussen (129 not out off 96) had scored contrasting hundreds en route to their 204-run stand to take South Africa to 296 for four after opting to bat.
India were comfortably placed to get home when Kohli (51 off 63) and Dhawan (79 off 84) were in the middle but it all came crashing down with the end of their 92-run stand.
India have been guilty of relying too much on their top three in the past and once again, the middle-order could not capitalise on the platform provided by Kohli and Dhawan after they lost skipper K.L. Rahul (12) cheaply.
Chase master Kohli, playing his first game since his captaincy tenure ended across formats last week, hardly broke a sweat in reaching his half-century before a sweep shot off Tabraiz Shami, a stroke he doesn't play regularly, led to his downfall leaving him in disbelief.
Dhawan looked in sublime touch during his stay and played the Test series' rising star Marco Jansen rather comfortably, collecting five of his 10 fours off the tall left-arm pacer.
The stage was set for the likes of Rishabh Pant (16), Shreyas Iyer (17) and debutant Venkatesh Iyer (2) to get the job done but they fell in quick succession, leaving India at 188 for six from a strong 138 for one.
While Pant was stumped by a lightening quick Quinton de Kock, the shot selection of Shreyas and Venkatesh could have been better.
Shardul Thakur (50 not out off 43) tried his best towards the end but the damage had already been done.
Earlier, Jasprit Bumrah (2/48) was the stand out bowler for India in an otherwise ordinary bowling effort.
After a sluggish start, van der Dussen and Bavuma shared the second highest partnership ever against India in ODIs to ensure a competitive total for the home team.