For fifty exhilarating minutes before tea at Newlands, the unlikely batting combination of Shivnarine Chanderpaul Fidel Edwards and the courageous, doubly wounded captain Chris Gayle appeared to have shifted the momentum of the second Test so decisively that the possibility of a remarkable West Indies victory was not just cock-eyed optimism.
With Chanderpaul providing the glue with another marathon, unbeaten innings, this time 70, stretched over five hours, Edwards contributing his highest Test score - 21, and Gayle disregarding the pain of his damaged hamstring and a chipped bone in his thumb to hammer three sixes and four fours in a breathtaking exhibition of power hitting, South Africa's requirement was increased to 185.
On a tricky pitch, it did not seem a straightforward ask but West Indies' hopes were quickly crushed in the bright afternoon sunshine by the calculated aggression of South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, and his partners. As the effects of the heavy roller between innings deadened the straw coloured surface, they immediately regained the initiative with a volley of boundaries that propelled South Africa to their target off just 35.2 overs for the loss of three wickets.
Smith, short of runs in his previous six innings against New Zealand and West Indies this season, led the way with 85 off 79 balls with 11 fours. AB de Villiers opened with Smith because of Neil McKenzie's calf muscle injury, but he was dismissed by Dwayne Bravo for 23. Hashim Amla (37) and, finally, Jacques Kallis (22*), and Ashwell Prince (12*), followed Smith's example to complete the result that levelled the series and set up the decider.
The West Indies needed to bowl with control and take their chances. They did neither. Daren Powell was thumped for 20 from his opening two overs, everyone was guilty of banging the ball into the surface, feeding Smith's liking for pulls and cuts, and when the catch did come in the sixth over, two-handed to Marlon Samuels at point off Jerome Taylor, it was dropped. Smith was then 18, the total 37. It would have given the West Indies a needed lift and checked South Africa's advance.
Instead, Smith and the rest continued merrily along to the goal to cancel out West Indies victory in the first Test and set up the decider for the final match, starting in Durban on Thursday.
Both Gayle and Edwards will be missing then. Both are carrying damaged hamstrings and Gayle's well being was further undermined when Andre Nel's fourth ball of the morning, the second he received, leapt from a length, rapped him on the glove and forced him to retire with what the x-ray later revealed to be a hairline fracture of the left thumb.
Although he said later that, if it was up to him, he would "strap it and go and play the same way", he acknowledged that "it isn't looking good".
Indeed, at the post-match presentation, he called for Ramnaresh Sarwan to "put on his boots and get down here". He amended it at the media conference later to "the possibility of having Sarwan to come over, whatever the case may be" but the message was clear.
Sarwan, along with Gayle himself and Chanderpaul are the only world-rated batsmen available. He was eliminated from this tour with his knee injury but is currently playing, and making runs, for Guyana in the Carib Beer match against Trinidad and Tobago. To get to Durban in time for the Test, he would have to "put on his boots" and fly out right away. It would entail him being replaced in the Guyana team but the West Indies board could follow the example of the English board and, in the circumstances, allow a substitute.
When Gayle returned to the fray yesterday afternoon, to partner the immovable Chanderpaul with nine wickets down, the situation was little changed in the interim since he trudged off the field in the opening over. The uncertain Dwayne Bravo was taken at slip off the glove from Nel's lifter for 12, Rawl Lewis' miserable return to Test cricket continued with a catch to short leg off left-arm spinner Paul Harris after nine balls and Chanderpaul's single-minded resistance appeared as if it would only delay the inevitable.
Dale Steyn intervened to dismiss Taylor and Powell to slip catches in successive overs but Edwards shifted the balance once more. Like Gayle, he was aided by the designated runner, Runako Morton, but, like Gayle later, he did not engage in much running. He treated Jacques Kallis to the indignity of a straight six, hit two fours besides and only fell to a sensational catch by Harris off Nel, running back from mid-off.
The lead was only 114 but Gayle returned to respond to an appreciative reception from a crowd of around 10,000 with some breathtaking strokes, all the more so given his physical condition. Perhaps it was because of it. He pulled his first ball, from Makhaya Ntini, for a searing four and took 16 off the next over from Nel.
The big fast bowler had given up only 27 runs from his first 22 overs. Now two leg-side fours and a dismissive pull for a huge six over on the longest boundary advertised Gayle's immense strength - and courage. As the captain continued his merciless assault, Chanderpaul briefly caught the mood, sweeping Harris for six. Gayle responded with two successive sixes off Steyn in the direction of the adjoining railway track at midwicket but they were his last. Aiming for another maximum, he skied a catch to long-on.
Chanderpaul was, once more, left unbeaten. He never looked like getting out but only altered his tempo after Lloyd arrived. By then, the South Africans, always so chirpy in the field, had been reduced to near silence. The force seemed irretrievably with the West Indies.
In every respect, Gayle's was a remarkable performance that served to raise his already developing status as leader. His stock rose even higher when he led his team out to try to press for an unlikely triumph. He would add to the folklore that will inevitably develop out of his day's deeds with two stunning catches at slip off Lewis, albeit with his good, right hand, not his damaged left, to account for Amla for 37 after a partnership of 83, and Smith. By then, it was too late.