Kedar Jadhav’s maiden Twenty20 International fifty proved decisive as India scored a nail-biting three-run victory over Zimbabwe in the final match and won the series 2-1 in Harare, on Wednesday.
The Maharashtra batsman smashed 58 off 42 balls before Axar Patel came up with a late cameo, scoring 20 off 11 balls, as India posted a competitive 138 for 6.
Dhawal Kulkarni (2-23) and Barinder Sran (2-31) then restricted the hosts to 135 despite gallant knocks from Vusi Sibanda (28) and Peter Moor (26) which took the series down to the last delivery.
Zimbabwe, needing 21 runs off the final over, were in touching distance of a famous series win until Barinder Sran held his nerve for a dramatic finish to the game.
Elton Chigumbura (16) and Timycen Maruma (23 not out) almost pulled off the chase in the final over as Sran conceded a six off the first ball, followed by two fours, which included one on a no-ball.
A four was needed off the final delivery but Chigumbura ended up hitting a low full straight into the hands of Yuzvendra Chahal at cover, triggering wild celebrations by the Indians.
The home team made a confident start to the run-chase, reaching 40 for one in the first six overs.
After the early departure of Chamu Chibhabha, the experienced duo of Vusi Sibanda (28) and Hamilton Masakadza (15) looked comfortable against the Indian pace attack.
Sibanda came out with an aggressive intent and put pressure on the bowlers especially Dhawal Kulkarni, who was hammered for three consecutive boundaries in his second over.
Sran, who had figures of 4 for 10 on his T20 debut on Monday, was not at his best on Wednesday even though he provided the first breakthrough and held his nerve in the final over.
The hosts looked threatening with Sibanda in the middle but his and Masakadza's exit in quick succession turned the match in India’s way.
Masakadza was adjudged lbw after attempting a sweep off left-arm spinner Axar Patel before Kulkarni trapped Sibanda in front of the stumps.
Peter Moor got into the act after Sibanda's dismissal, punishing a wayward Chahal for three sixes. Chahal offered a couple of long hops and Moor was quick to deposit them into the stands over mid-wicket.
The leggie finally removed Moor but the target was very much within reach as Zimbabwe needed 51 off the last 36 balls.
However, two tight overs by Jaspirt Bumrah and Patel made life tougher for the opposition, who had to depend on Malcolm Waller and Chigumbura.
Earlier, batting first for the first time on the tour, India had a tough time against the Zimbabwe bowlers on a pitch where scoring freely was difficult, as was the case earlier in the series.
It was a golden opportunity for the young batsmen to make an impact in the must-win match but some of them ended up squandering it.
Opener Lokesh Rahul was put under pressure in the very first over as pacer Tendai Chatara bowled a rare maiden in this format.
Rahul was tentative at the start but bounced back in Chatara's following over, smashing him for a straight six and a couple of fours. But he did not last long and neither did his opening partner, Mandeep Singh.
Mandeep, who scored 31 and 52 not out in the last two games, was the first to depart. He tried to cut a short ball over cover but mistimed it and was caught just outside the circle.
Rahul too was out to a lose stroke. Trying to whack Neville Madziva over mid-wicket, he played on to his stumps.
With Manish Pandey run-out after a brilliant direct hit from Elton Chigumbura, India were struggling at 29 for three in six overs.
Jadhav and Ambati Rayudu (20) were left to do the repair job and they took the innings forward with a 49-run stand off as many balls.
Barring Jadhav, the Indian batsmen could not find the big hits that were needed in the middle overs.
Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who failed to get his team over the line in opening T20, was bowled by Donald Tiripano after scoring 9 off 14 balls.
Jadhav held his end to post his maiden half century, his innings laced with seven fours and a six.
Dhoni did not get going with the bat but added another feather to his illustrious cap when he walked out for the toss.
He equalled Ricky Ponting's record of captaining in 324 international matches and is now perched at the top of the list alongside the Australian.
Dhoni, who was appointed captain in 2007, has led India in 60 Tests, 194 ODIs and 70 T20 Internationals.