As India were looking to seal the Davis Cup World Group play-off, a groin injury to Mahesh Bhupathi forced him and Rohan Bopanna to concede the doubles tie and that kept South Africa alive in Johannesburg at the Ellis Park Indoor Arena on Saturday.
Bhupathi and Bopanna were down 3-6, 6-3, 0-4 against South African pair Jeff Coetzee and Wesley Moodie when the Indians decided to pull out.
India still lead the tie 2-1 after Somdev Devvarman and Rohan Bopanna won their opening singles matches on Friday.
India now will have to win one of Sunday's two reverse singles to enter the World Group Finals for the first time in 11 years. The top players of the two countries Somdev and Rik De Voest will play the first reverse singles while Bopanna will take on Izak van der Merwe in the second.
The last time India lost a doubles tie was in 2003 World Group play-off against the Netherlands and interestingly Bhupathi and Bopanna paired up then too as Leander Paes did not play in the tie. They lost to Dutch pair Ohan Van Lottum and Martin Verkerk.
The Indian pair lost the first set as Bhupathi dropped his serve in the eighth game, but the Indians fought back to make it a set-all, breaking Coetzee's serve in the eighth game when the South African double-faulted on break-point. Bhupathi then served out the set.
The South Africans, breaking Bopanna's serve in the second game, cruised to 3-0 ahead in the third set and when Bhupathi dropped his serve at love with a second double fault in the fourth game, he walked up to shake hands with the opponents.
"Bhupathi is coming straight from the US Open. The travel can get very gruelling at this age. I am 30 and I can understand. Mahesh is 35 and it could be more tiring for him to play after landing barely 48 hours before the tie," said Moodie.
South Africa had won both its previous tie against India. The hosts have won their last 10 ties in the competition and have reached the World Group playoffs for the first time in 10 years. They have had four World Group appearances, the last being in 1998.
It is the second successive year that India have reached the World Group playoffs -- they lost to Romania last year.