India were kept down to 153-5 by South Africa on Thursday in a match they must win to qualify for the semi-finals of the Twenty20 world championships.
None of the first four batsmen made 20 before captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and young Rohit Sharma retrieved the situation by adding 49 for the fifth wicket.
Dhoni, who won the toss and elected to take first strike at Kingsmead, hit 45 off 33 balls with four boundaries and a six.
The 20-year-old Sharma, batting for the first time in the tournament, made an unbeaten 50 off 40 balls, reaching his half-century off the final delivery with a six to mid-wicket off Johan van der Wath.
India need a win to qualify for the semi-finals from group E of the Super Eights round.
A defeat for Dhoni's men will knock them out and lift both South Africa and New Zealand into the last four from the group.
Pakistan and Australia qualified for the semi-finals from group F earlier on Thursday.
India were without Yuvraj Singh who was ruled out with a left elbow injury sustained during Wednesday's match against England in which he hit Stuart Broad for six sixes in an over.
The blow seemed to have a telling effect on the rest of the team even after openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir put on 32 for the first wicket in 4.3 overs.
Three wickets fell for one run in four balls following a double strike by veteran Shaun Pollock in the fifth over.
The wily seamer had Gambhir caught by South African captain Graeme Smith at mid-off for 19 and dismissed Dinesh Karthick for no score, a flick going straight to Albie Morkel at square-leg.
In the next over bowled by Makhaya Ntini, who returned to the team after missing Wednesday's game against New Zealand due to a stomach virus, Sehwag (11) edged a catch to wicket-keeper Mark Boucher.
Robin Uthappa and Sharma carried the total to 61-3 by the 11th over when Morne Morkel broke through by having Uthappa (15) caught by Smith at mid-off.