Smith and Amla post confident riposte
South Africa made a stong riposte after India posted a healthy 414 on a pitch that didn't deteriorate to the extent predicted and thus favour the bowlers. The Indian innings saw allround contributions, while for South Africa, who reached 144 at stumps losing just one wicket, Graeme Smith led from the front and was ably supported by Hashim Amla.
The fact that the pitch was dry and crumbling, and wore a distinctly sub-continental look may have prompted Smith to begin as he did - hooking Zaheer Khan for a six first ball, albeit off the top edge - trying to make the most of it when the fast bowlers were on. He then played a far more controlled pull shot through square-leg, and South Africa were well and truly on their way.
AB de Villiers provided the only blip in the innings when he drove hard at a ball from Sreesanth that came in off the pitch and got a thickish inside edge that was caught by Dinesh Karthik behind the stumps. From 14 for 1, though, there was no joy for the Indians as the Smith-Amla combine consolidated the position for South Africa.
Smith was especially aggressive in some of his strokeplay, driving through the off side with such power that it made a mockery of the fields set. Amla, perhaps playing to keep his place in this South African team was, understandably, not as forceful, and suffered from early nerves, but he was no less effective as he ended the day on an unbeaten 50 to his skipper's 76.
When the day began with India on 254 for 3 and the pitch not really doing a whole lot, there was a strong case for the batsmen to get well set and fill their boots. Laxman and Tendulkar, on their part, were hardly troubled by what the South Africans were sending down, and a big partnership was on the cards.
When Dale Steyn began a spell of pacy deliveries that were quite straight - in the past he has been guilty of not making the batsmen play enough - it was obvious that there was a plan in place. Even though many deliveries slipped down the leg side, there was just a hint of late away movement, and it was a matter of time before he got one in the right place.
That happened when Laxman was on 13, and had spent almost an hour at the crease. A peach of a delivery began on middle stump, committing Laxman to a stroke, and curled away extremely late, beating the bat and knocking the off stump flat. It was the sort of delivery that even a set batsman could not counter, and Laxman was on his way.
Ganguly walked out to bat and was immediately greeted by a short ball that he fended awkwardly. The examination through short-pitched deliveries continued as one fend ballooned over Amla at short-leg, and another crashed into the helmet as Ganguly took his eyes off the ball. To his credit, though, Ganguly did not throw his wicket away, despite looking distinctly uncomfortable at the crease. When one ball was pitched up he stood tall and timed it away through point and some of the nerves began to settle.
At the other end, though, there were no signs of nerves and Tendulkar just went from strength to strength. He was positive in defense and careful in shot selection, playing some exquisite shots on both sides of the wicket. The cover-drive was a treat, and the whip off the hips was also very much in evidence as the runs began to flow with some ease.
Tendulkar brought up the 43rd half-century of his Test career, and in the course of his innings also became the batsman to have scored the maximum number of Test runs away from home - beating Brian Lara's mark. Tendulkar then added Paul Harris to the list of left-arm spinners he has been dismissed by. Harris, who was operating over the wicket and floating the ball into the rough in an attempt to gain extra purchase, got one ball to turn sharply and bounce extra, and Tendulkar could only edge to Jacques Kallis at slip. Tendulkar's 64 included 11 boundaries, the last of which was a delightful flick off the legs against Harris that sped through midwicket.
Virender Sehwag, coming in to bat at No. 7, began well, slashing Ntini over the point region for his first boundary, following that up with a clip through square-leg that sped to the fence. If ever there was a good pitch to bat himself back into form, it was this one, and Sehwag made the most of his time out in the middle. Harris, bowling into the rough, was treated with disdain. Slog sweeps, inside-out drives, late cuts and even one huge six over midwicket helped Sehwag race along to 40 from 49 balls but eventually he chanced his arm one time too many. An attempted sweep went off the too edge down towards deep backward square-leg where Ntini ran in and took a good catch.
The tail then folded meekly - Anil Kumble was trapped in front by Pollock, Zaheer overbalanced and was stumped, and Sreesanth jammed Pollock to gully - as Ganguly did his best to pick up what runs he could. He grew especially comfortable against the spin of Harris and launched one trademark six into the stands over wide long-on. Ganguly was last out, on 66, when he failed to pick a slower ball from Pollock and hit a catch straight up in the air. By then, though, India had moved on to a healthy total.
Dileep Premachandran in Cape Town
Highlight of the day: With India having a competitive total on the board, and the rough outside the left-hander's off stump looking ominous, it was imperative that Graeme Smith set the tone for his team's reply. He did so with an innings high on quality and determination. Few loose deliveries were spared, and the partnership with Hashim Amla ensured that South Africa can still harbour hopes of getting the right result.
Lowlight of the day: At 395 for 5, with Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly striking the ball freely, India were eyeing in excess of 500. But when Sehwag swept one up to deep square leg, the day's pendulum swung decisively towards South Africa. On a pitch such as this, losing the last five wickets for 19 wasn't careless, it was inexcusable.
Shot of the day: Left-arm spinners have always had the same effect on Ganguly that a rag of scarlet has on a bull. When Paul Harris tossed one up a little, Ganguly was down the pitch to wallop it deep into the stands behind midwicket. A little power combined with impeccable timing can go a long way.
Ball of the day: Dale Steyn produced a special one to VVS Laxman. His pace had Laxman on the back foot, and after pitching on middle, the ball jagged away just enough to uproot the off stump. Steyn celebrated with a trampoline leap, and you couldn't blame him.
Catch of the day: Sehwag's top-edged heave might have fallen safe but for Makhaya Ntini running in from the square-leg fence and throwing himself forward to pluck the ball inches off the ground. He might not have had a great innings with the ball, but that one catch turned the complexion of the day's play.
Message of the day: When Hashim Amla walked in at the fall of AB de Villiers's wicket, the pressure was well and truly on. Anil Kumble had just been brought on for a quick taste of the conditions before tea, and the sledging started as soon as Amla took guard. "Let's get Jacques Kallis in, boys" chirped a voice from the close-in cordon. Amla retorted in the best possible fashion, making his first decent score of the series.
Off the park: The stewards and the players combined to make more than a few fans happy as the afternoon wore on. The stewards would carry miniature bats, caps and flags to the boundary rope, and the boundary sentinel would then oblige with a quick scribble or three before the next ball was bowled. Sreesanth at fine leg and Sachin Tendulkar at third man were the busiest, though Tendulkar refused to have anything to do with an inflated Holstein cow that was being thrust in his direction.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo