South Africa have squared their three-Test series against West Indies, with the decider coming up at Durban next week, following an extraordinary fourth and final day at Cape Town. At tea, a fluctuating match was emphatically in the balance thanks to the efforts of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and a one-legged, one-handed Chris Gayle, but in the final session, Graeme Smith reclaimed the initiative with a blistering assault of his own. He made 85 from 79 balls, as South Africa turned a tricky chase of 185 into a 35-over cakewalk.
The ease of South Africa's run-chase belied the tension they displayed for the rest of the day. West Indies began the morning with a clatter of wickets and finished by shipping their runs at five an over, but for a session and a half either side of lunch, they were the team in the ascendancy. Chanderpaul dropped anchor to bring up his ninth half-century in ten Test innings, allowing the tailenders Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards, and then - spectacularly - the injured captain Gayle to blaze their side out of the mire at 133 for 6, all the way to a respectable total of 262.
But then, in the final session, their momentum collapsed and with it their prospects in the match. With Edwards out of the attack due to a hamstring strain, the remaining trio of seamers plus the insipid Rawl Lewis were no match for Smith's aggressive intent. With AB de Villiers an equally forceful presence, the pair rattled to their half-century partnership at a run a ball, with Smith especially brutal on anything dropped short. A cagey contest was blown open in half an hour of strokeplay, as West Indies' bowlers lost their intensity and composure for arguably the first time this series.
de Villiers eventually fell for 23 as he mistimed a loose pull to short midwicket, while Gayle, fielding at slip in spite of his broken thumb, pulled off two stunning catches that - had they come earlier in the innings - might have provided the spark that was so lacking in the attack. The first, to remove the nuggetty Amla for 37, was especially miraculous, as he dived full-stretch with his working right hand, flicked the ball once, then twice, then finally grasped it in his fingertips as his momentum rolled him out of reach. But by then, South Africa were already galloping over the horizon, and it was left to Jacques Kallis to wrap up the victory with an unbeaten 22.
In the end the victory became as routine as had been expected at the very start of the day, when West Indies resumed with a slender lead of 18 and four men already out of the reckoning. Four balls into the day, and that became five, when Gayle was cracked on the tip of his left thumb by Andre Nel and was immediately sent to hospital for a scan. The results confirmed a break so severe that he was not originally intending to continue his innings.
But, slowly at first and then with increasing haste, the tide began to turn. It was a dropped catch that transformed West Indies' approach, as Taylor - on 1 - was badly missed by Smith at slip. With Chanderpaul dug in as deeply as a skyscraper's foundations, Taylor responded with a swat for six over long-on and a pull for four off Makhaya Ntini, before handing the baton to the hamstrung Edwards, who swung through the line with massive intent and occasional impact, such as the vast straight six he struck off Kallis.
It was batting straight out of the Gordon Greenidge school of injured calypso slugging, and it was all the encouragement that Gayle needed to resume his innings. He was wincing with pain even when playing defensive shots against the spinner, Paul Harris. So, instead, he opted for a succession of astonishing one-handed whacks through the leg-side. His first ball of the resumption, from Ntini, was belted over mid-on on one leg, before exacting revenge on Nel with a sequence of four, four, six in his next over.
Chanderpaul had spent much of his innings ignoring the mayhem unfolding around him, but he got into the spirit of things when he dropped to one knee to dispatch Harris over midwicket for six, and when play was extended because of the partnership's success, Gayle launched consecutive bouncers from Steyn into the stands. But Steyn, who has himself being labouring with a hamstring strain, had the last word one ball later, as Gayle picked out long-on to hand him a well-deserved fourth of the innings, and eight in the match.
Gayle's departure for 38 spelt the end of the West Indian resistance. Smith emerged after tea to provide a captain's innings of his own, as blow by blow, the match was prised back out of their grasp. He offered one opportunity, on 18, when Marlon Samuels at point failed to cling onto a loose cut, but thereafter there was no looking back, for him or for his team.