South Africa, after an opening partnership of 194, with openers Quinton De Kock (106), for the second straight ODI, and Hashim Amla (100) scoring centuries, lost their way in the final 15 to end their innings on 280 for six in 49 overs - the match was reduced by an over after a one-and-a-half-hour delay due to a wet outfield at Kingsmead.
The Indian bowlers did well to pull things back from a tricky situation and needed their batsmen to back them up; but that was far from the case as the visitors folded up for just 146 runs in 35.1 overs.
The onus, as always, was on Dhawan and Sharma to give India a sound, if not flashy, opening, but it proved to be just hope as the India lost their first wicket in just the third over with a mere ten runs on the board.
Dhawan, facing only his second delivery, sliced one off Dale Steyn straight down the throat of JP Duminy at point.
Kohli, the man of the moment in Indian cricket, arrogant, talented and full of aggressive shots, failed to produce any of those out of his locker yet again, just hanging his bat out to a delivery outside off and giving Lonwabo Tsotsobe an easy wicket.
India were in trouble at that point, on 16 for two in the fourth over, and it only got worse as Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, in for the injured Yuvraj Singh, got out soon after.
MS Dhoni, the only Indian batsman to score a knock of note in the first one-dayer, and Suresh Raina put on a decent partnership of 40, but the match was as good as over once the top three were dismissed.
Dhoni was dismissed in the 20th over by Vernon Philander as South Africa looked to finish the minimum required number of overs to constitute a match, with rain looming large.
However, the wet weather decided to relent for the time being, adding another dagger to the away side, with Raina then falling to Morne Morkel - David Miller taking a sparkling catch at cover - as India, the No. 1 ODI team in the world, were made to look like a schoolyard side by South Africa yet again.
The damning aspect about this performance from India was that unlike at the Wanderers, the pitch in Durban did not hold any demons; most of the Indian wickets were the result of the batsman's mistakes, even if the bowlers, led by Dale Steyn yet again were relentless.
South Africa were brilliant in the field against India. BCCI
In the first innings, after receiving a barracking of epic proportions from the South Africa batsmen and then their own skipper Dhoni, the India bowlers needed to step up, plain and simple.
For 35 overs in the second ODI, in tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, there were no signs of the tonking from the blades of the South African batters letting up, before India sprung a commendable fightback as a no-more-free-runs-and-also-a-few-wickets spell was cast to give the Indian batsmen some real hope of levelling the series.
It was the same old story for the Indian bowlers early on with the South African openers, taking control and rarely relinquishing it until it all went pear-shaped in the final stretch.
Quinton De Kock continued his love affair with the international game, authority, ease and grace personified, with the immovable object Amla at the other end scoring runs at will, as is his wont.
While the India fast bowlers, much changed with Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav coming in for Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohit Sharma, were improved, the result stayed pretty much the same - South African dominance with the bat.
Try as they might, India just don't seem to be able to pick up wickets at the top - although it must be said this Durban pitch is nothing like the seaming, bouncy conditions seen in the first ODI in Johannesburg.
In fact the spinners R Ashwin (one for 48) and Ravindra Jadeja (one for 49), rendered useless in the first one-dayer, were much more effective at Kingsmead, with the slower nature of the wicket helping them.
Having said that, however, Amla and De Kock, quirky and cocky, rarely showed any signs of trouble, as the runs just kept ticking along like seconds counting down to India's doom for a second straight time.
The will-turn-21-in-nine-days De Kock, so assured and belying his years, completed his second straight century, and third overall, with a customary single, the first ball of the batting powerplay in the 34th over.
South Africa opener Hashim Amla walks back after being dismissed by Mohammed Shami in the second ODI, December 8. BCCI
However, the powerplay, dreaded by the batsmen for its penchant to produce wickets, proved to be India's path towards fighting back in the innings, as De Kock, and then soon after the ridiculously dangerous if-i-stay-until-the-end-then-India's-chances-are-dead-and-buried AB De Villiers was sent packing.
De Kock, who made 135 in the first ODI, first shovelled one straight to square leg off Ashwin in the third over of the batting powerplay, thus ending another brilliant innings of 106 (118b, 9x4).
That brought De Villiers to the crease, bringing himself up the order ahead of the usually more circumspect Jacques Kallis with just 15 overs remaining in the innings.
However, the Proteas skipper, destructive and lethal towards the end of the innings more often than not, could not stay long enough to work the sweat glands of the India bowlers into overdrive, dragging his feet out of the crease and allowing MS Dhoni to whip the bails off in a flash after the right-hander missed a Jadeja delivery.
Those two quick wickets gave India hope to keep the score down to a respectable level and the bowlers, sensing the momentum shift, kept things tight, tightening the run-noose towards the end.
JP Duminy (26, 29b, 2x4), who hit boundaries for fun in the final overs in the first ODI, could not wield that bat to full effect, while Hashim Amla (100, 117b, 8x4) was dismissed right after reaching his century - Mohammed Shami doing the damage.
Shami, who finished with figures of 8-0-48-3, would also pick up David Miller's wicket albeit a little luckily with the umpire raising his finger for lbw despite the big left-hander getting an inside-edge, before Kallis was castled by the pacer.
India were well on top now, restricting the we-want-to-break-free-and-hit-endless-boundaries South African batsmen remarkably well.
The hosts managed just 64 runs in the last nine overs, as India fought back brilliantly well to restrict the Proteas to 280.
However, India's failings with the bat away from home came back to haunt them as SA wrapped up the easiest of series wins.
To report problems or to leave feedback about this article, e-mail:
To contact the editor, e-mail: