So much for home advantage, hey?
Yes, South Africa have moaned on every occasion they've had about this atypical SuperSport Park pitch, and how. On the eve of the match, Faf du Plessis was said to be unhappy. After the first day, young opening batsman Aiden Markram said, "Ideally we would have liked it quicker." On the second day, debutant Lungi Ngidi said the surface "wasn't what we thought it would be". On the third day, Morne Morkel said it was "100%" like bowling in India. And on the fourth day, Dean Elgar said it was "disappointing" to play on a surface like this at home. Yet, with the fifth day to come, South Africa hold the aces.
Let's forget the reputation of Highveld pitches as fire-spitting green mambas and just concentrate on the kind of contest this tamer, browner surface has produced. It has been tense, gripping and, most importantly, even. Run-scoring and wicket-taking have been equally difficult, skill rather than brute force has been required from both sides, and small things have really mattered.
The fourth day was a good example of this. South Africa came into it with about a 120-run lead and eight wickets in hand, on paper a position of strength. With AB de Villiers well-set overnight and Dean Elgar ever-stubborn, it could even have been thought of as a position of dominance especially when the pair started positively. De Villiers, who has three times in four innings in this series alone shown his ability to change the tempo of an innings, scored 30 runs off 43 balls in the first hour and Elgar 24 off 30. Together, their runs came at 4.5 per over.
But then things changed. When de Villiers was dismissed, South Africa slowed down. Elgar only managed one more run off his next 12 balls before he was frustrated into picking out the man at deep square leg. The expletive he uttered as he walked off the field was heard all around the ground.
This was not a situation for Quinton de Kock, who edged four times in five balls, so it was up to Vernon Philander and Faf du Plessis to start a blockathon of sorts - seemingly pointless given that South Africa would need quick runs to give themselves enough time to bowl India out, but vital in hindsight. Du Plessis and Philander batted together for most of the second session, when South Africa eked out 57 runs in 27 overs. The intent that has been the talking point of the series seemed lacking for the rest of the innings - after de Villiers' dismissal, South Africa scored 114 runs in the remaining 50.2 overs at a rate of 2.27 to the over - but on closer inspection, that period was key.
Du Plessis and Philander got to see first hand what the surface was doing for the bowlers and, as the captain and one of the key members of the pack, they shouldn't have minded too much. There was some reverse-swing for Mohammed Shami and Hardik Pandya's use of the offcutter provided clues as to the approach South Africa would need to employ later. It is not their default strategy, but this attack has often been quicker to adjust than their line-up. With variable bounce on offer, they showed that in a testing hour-and-50-minute passage of play before the close, in which India's big fish had been caught.
"It was a good day for us and the cherry on the top was the way the bowlers put their hands up. They have been doing that the whole year for us, whether it is a new guy or the seasoned campaigners. We seem to be hitting the mark a lot quicker than what we are used to in the past," Dean Elgar said, admitting that having a Kohli-less India makes tomorrow' job easier. "It's massive for us and I think it's massive for India, knowing he is not batting. I am sitting here with a smile on my face knowing there is one less very competitive, very talented guy that we have to deal with."
But even if South Africa stroll to a series win - the evidence so far suggests they will have to work fairly hard for the victory - some part of the assessment of this match will be focused on the pitch. And, on that front, South Africa may actually be changing their minds about this most subcontinental of home pitches, which they remain unhappy about, but only if they lose.
"It's working out, the wicket is playing into our favour," Elgar said. "If the shoe was on the other foot, I think we would feel quite hard done by. It's a little disappointing to have a wicket of this nature because it's not what we would choose to play a subcontinent side on, but, so be it, we are done complaining about it. We just need to crack on and try and win a Test.
"The wicket will play into our hands nicely with our seamers and [left-arm spinner] Keshav [Maharaj] coming in on what is proving to be a decent spinning wicket. Our fast bowlers thrive on bowling on wickets like this. If they can get the ball to reverse as soon as possible, it will be a massive asset."