Colombo: India's quest to regain the World Twenty20 title came to a heartbreaking end after they were knocked out of the tournament despite a thrilling one-run victory over South Africa in the final Super Eights contest on Tuesday.
Put into bat, India scored 152 for six and needed to restrict South Africa within 121 to qualify for the semifinals on net run rate but Faf Du Plessis knocked the stuffing out of the Indian bowlers with a smashing half century that put paid to their hopes of making it to the knock-out stage.
India's task was made all the more difficult after Pakistan comprehensively beat Australia by 32 runs in an earlier Super Eights match of the day as it strengthened their net run-rate.
Australia and Pakistan qualify for the semifinals from Group II.
South Africa were all out for 151 in the penultimate ball to end their campaign after losing all three of their Super Eights match.
Ever since winning the inaugural edition in 2007, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his boys have failed to reach even the semifinals of the subsequent editions.
Du Plessis hit 65 off 38 balls with the help of six boundaries and two sixes but more importantly he dashed any hope of India making it to the last four.
The defining moment came when Robin Peterson played a slow bouncer from Lakshmipathy Balaji towards short fine leg as South Africa reached 122 and it was cheered lustily by a sizeable Pakistani supporters anxiously waiting for the moment.
For India, the magic figure was 121 and the start was a right one. Zaheer Khan bowled a perfect delivery first up to dismiss Hashim Amla. The delivery pitched on the off-middle line and then moved a shade to take the outside edge of Amlas bat as Virender Sehwag took a good catch diving to his left.
Irfan Pathan got Jacques Kallis to flick one which was taken by Rohit Sharma at mid-wicket. Faf du Plessis and skipper AB de Villiers then added 30 in quick time and it was Du Plessis who started taking on the Indian bowlers.
Dhoni brought Yuvraj at the end of the Powerplay overs and it immediately paid off as he got de Villiers to play a tentative forward defensive push which clipped the off-stump bail.
However, there was no stopping du Plessis who was in a mood to dispatch everything out of sight as he raced to his half century in 29 balls with the help of three fours and two sixes.
At the halfway stage, South Africa were 73 for three and it was literally impossible for India to restrict the Proteas to 121.
Earlier, Suresh Raina scored an useful 45 while skipper Dhoni played a little cameo to help India post a respectable 152 for six after being sent into bat.
It was Raina whose contribution was a significant one as he hit five boundaries during his 34-ball knock. Skipper Dhoni also should be complimented for his 13-ball 23 as it provided the necessary impetus and helped the team cross 150-run mark.
Dhoni hit Dale Steyn for 14 runs in the penultimate over, including two powerfully struck boundaries, which proved useful in the end.
India's trouble started when they lost their top three batsmen within the Powerplay overs and then it was Raina who scripted the recovery act.
Opener Gautam Gambhir started off with a lovely cover drive but Morne Morkel knocked down his middle-stump after scoring only eight.
In-form Virat Kohli got one from Jacques Kallis that reared up and he gloved it for rival captain AB de Villiers who dived to pouch onto a spectacular leg-side catch. Kohli made just two.
Virender Sehwag lofted left-arm spinner Robin Peterson for a huge six over long-on but lost his off-stump trying to repeat the stroke the next ball. The situation demanded a bit of discretion but as his wont, the 'Nawab of Najafgarh' went for the jugular only to deepen India's misery.
Yuvraj Singh started with a majestic six over cover fence off Johan Botha's delivery and for good measure slog-swept Peterson for his second six. Another pulled boundary off Botha's bowling raised visions of a big total.
However, Morkel bowled a beauty when Yuvraj was on a quickfire 21. It pitched in the block hole and Yuvraj was bowled through the gate trying to play a flick shot.
At 68 for four, Rohit Sharma and Raina came together for a 44-run fifth wicket partnership.
The duo concentrated mostly on singles although Raina hit bulk of his boundaries over the extra cover region. The 100 came up in the 14th over when Raina lofted Botha over extra cover for a boundary.
Rohit, who was playing the second fiddle nudging the singles finally tried a non-existent sweep shot off Peterson's bowling and was adjudged leg before. Rohit made 25 off 27 balls with two boundaries.
For South Africa, Peterson and Morne Morkel took two wickets apiece while Jacques Kallis chipped in with one wicket.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt; wk), Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Irfan Pathan, Ravichandran Ashwin, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Zaheer Khan.
South Africa: AB de Villiers (capt; wk), Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Jean Paul Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Farhaan Behardien, Albie Morkel, Johan Botha, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel.