South Africa 11 for 2 trail India 215 (Vijay 40, Harmer 4-78, Morkel 3-35) by 204 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Not long into the first hour of the third Test, the Nagpur pitch looked like it had been played on for days. The dry surface, spider-webbed like a cracked windshield, had already developed significant rough patches because of the bowlers' follow-throughs and once Morne Morkel found the right length for the conditions, and offspinner Simon Harmer the ideal pace, survival was an ordeal for the batsmen. India did not make it through the day, lasting only 78.2 overs.
In the nine overs South Africa faced before stumps, they glimpsed the severity of the challenge ahead, having lost a crucial toss. R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja spun the ball plenty and got it to bounce too. Stiaan van Zyl fell to Ashwin's drift and turn, prodding an offbreak to slip, and the nightwatchman Imran Tahir was bowled by Jadeja's accurate left-arm spin. They ended the day on 11 for 2, the deficit of 204 acquiring formidable proportions.
India did not look like they would get as far as 215 - the highest total of this spinner-dominant series - at one stage. Had there been more bounce to go with the prodigious turn, the pitch would have been near unplayable, but South Africa took a while to figure out the best method of attack. During that time India progressed to 50 for 0: M Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan bringing up their second consecutive half-century stand. They then lost six wickets for 75 runs.
Morkel and Kagiso Rabada had pitched too short in their first spells. While they were quick through the air, their 140kph-plus deliveries deflated after pitching, and the batsmen enjoyed the luxury of time. One short delivery from Morkel took so long to arrive that Vijay simply hung back and swatted it to the wide mid-on boundary, and even the short stuff from Kagiso Rabada, who had harried the Indian batsmen in the limited-overs games, was easily dealt with by Dhawan. There was just no carry.
India were 33 for 0 in eight overs when Harmer, playing ahead of Kyle Abbott, and left-arm spinner Dean Elgar began their tandem act. There were bursts of dust from the surface, and balls spun sharply to beat the bat or hit the pad, but Elgar's pace was a bit too slow for the surface, while Harmer's line from round the wicket to the right-handers was too straight for the lbw to come into play.
Vijay was lucky when he charged Harmer and missed, the ball grazing his inside edge and beating the wicketkeeper Dane Vilas by a long way, but he attempted the shot again two deliveries later and cleared long-on. It was the start of a tough day for Vilas, who conceded 15 runs in byes. The 50 partnership came up in 13.4 overs, but success came two balls later for South Africa.
Dhawan stepped out of his crease and pushed too hard at a slow one from Elgar, the turning delivery lobbing back off the inside edge to the bowler, who dived across the stumps to take a sharp catch. While Elgar and Harmer were economical, Imran Tahir's first two overs were a disappointment - a full toss and long hop allowed Cheteshwar Pujara to flick and cut to the boundary - and he did not bowl again until after tea.
When Morkel returned for his second spell, he bowled fuller lengths and was immediately a greater threat than he had been with the new ball. Hanging back in the crease was dangerous now and Vijay fell - hit on the knee roll by the fullest delivery Morkel had bowled until then, one that straightened and kept so low, rendering it unplayable.
Pujara and Kohli took India to 85 for 2 at lunch, but South Africa were accurate after the break and struck regularly. While Rabada kept it tight - ending with 1 for 30 in 17 overs - Harmer got the ball to spit viciously. One such delivery from round the wicket spun past Kohli's leg stump for byes - Vilas barely moved - and another beat Pujara's inside edge to trap him plumb in front.
Ajinkya Rahane was jittery, charging to loft Harmer over long-on off his sixth delivery, and eventually lost his off stump to Morkel, the full ball swinging in sharply through the gap between bat and pad as he played a loose drive. Despite the pitch offering so much turn, South Africa attacked Kohli's vulnerability outside off stump persistently with pace and it paid off. Morkel produced another full ball, swinging away this time, and Kohli chased and edged to Vilas.
Morkel was now hooping reverse-swing yorkers to the right-handers, but Rohit Sharma managed to keep them out. He could not keep out a sharp offbreak from Harmer, though, and was caught at bat-pad, leaving India 125 for 6. Having bowled 20 overs in the day, however, Harmer began to tire and dropped short frequently to Jadeja, who capitalised with three quick boundaries before tea.
The early part of the final session was good for India, as South Africa's spinners bowled ordinary lengths, and Morkel went off the field because of a niggle after bowling the first ball of his 17th over. Jadeja had lofted Morkel straight and slashed him to third man, before he inside-edged Rabada on to his stumps. He had added 48 with Wriddhiman Saha for the seventh wicket, the second-highest partnership of the innings. Saha was the only Indian batsman to play more than 100 deliveries, and after he was athletically caught by Duminy at short midwicket with the score on 201, India's last two wickets managed only 14 more.