Only an unbeaten innings of 46 from Sachin Tendulkar, who dropped some pearls on a sluggish half-day of batting from India, kept South Africa at bay as India ended a truncated second day on 103 for 3, still 225 runs behind South Africa's first-innings 328. More than 30 overs of play were lost to bad light, but the Indians were happy to off when the light was offered, gaining some respite on a day when the South Africans had done most things right.
India were on the back foot after some dogged South African lower-order batting was backed up by some probing bowling. Three Indian batsmen were back in the hutch by the end of the day, with the score just crossing 100. Even though the wicket had eased out, India were struggling, having lost a couple of early wickets and then being put under pressure.
Virender Sehwag started the rot when he flashed away from the body at the first ball he received, only managing a thick edge. AB de Villiers flung himself to the right football goalkeeper style and plucked a stunner out of the air. Rahul Dravid was out in the middle in just the fifth ball of the innings, far earlier than he would have liked, and helped stabilise the situation. He played one beautiful off-drive for four to get off the mark, and Jaffer was also positive in intent, putting away anything that was pitched too full. At lunch India were 24 for 1, trailing South Africa by 304 runs.
Soon after the players returned from lunch Dravid was sent back, playing and missing at a good-length ball from Andre Nel. The ball struck him above the knee-roll and appeared to be going over the stumps, but Mark Benson, the umpire, thought otherwise and sent Dravid on his way, leg-before for 11, with India in trouble at 35 for 2.
Tendulkar walked out to the middle and immediately calmed the nerves. Although the runs did not quite come as quickly as India would have liked, Tendulkar and Jaffer batted with assurance, leaving the ball alone with ease, and occasionally pulling out a stunning shot. Tendulkar in particular played some peachy drives - a cover-drive off Shaun Pollock with the timing and placement absolutely perfect was easily the shot of the game. And that was not an isolated stroke. There were others just as immaculate in their execution that made you wonder just how someone with a severely bruised thumb could bat like this.
Jaffer had spent more than two hours at the crease, patient for the best part, to reach 26, before he went after one from Makhaya Ntini and only managed an edge to the slips cordon. With Jaffer gone it was over to VVS Laxman, and the scoring continued to be at a low ebb.
India then got a reprieve as Tendulkar, on 21, poked at one from Andrew Hall and managed a straightforward edge. The simplest of catches went straight to Graeme Smith at first slip who put down the chance. With the tea break round the corner the fall of Tendulkar's wicket would have meant disaster for India. Smith has been through a rough patch with the bat, and it seems that his disastrous form is spilling over to his fielding as well.
But it was in the early part of the day that South Africa clawed their way back into this match. Ashwell Prince completed his century with a delicious drive through cover and pushed his score along to 121, taking South Africa close to the 300-run mark. After reaching his hundred Prince marshalled the strike resourcefully, picking off twos in the early part of the over and keeping the strike, leaving Morne Morkel, the tailender, with as few deliveries to play as possible.
Morkel, for his part, appeared organised at the crease, and certainly did not indulge in any wild slogging. He showed that he was no mug with the bat when Sreesanth dropped one short and wide, slapping the ball away through point for a boundary. When the second new ball was taken, India prised out a crucial wicket. Prince, who had just essayed one beautiful cover-drive, went after a wide one from Sreesanth and got a thick edge. VVS Laxman, leaping to his left took an extremely sharp catch two-handed, ending Prince's long vigil at the crease. Prince had struck 16 boundaries in 212-ball innings.
But the Indians were forced to work hard even after Prince was dismissed. Morkel and Makhaya Ntini added a vital 32 for the last wicket. Despite being hit on the body Ntini hung around bravely, occasionally pulling out a big shot to beat the field. Ntini was finally dislodged by Anil Kumble, who sent down a fast slider that won the lbw appeal. Morkel was unbeaten on 31, pushing South Africa on to 328, a score that seemed scarcely probable earlier in the match.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo
Dileep Premachandran in Durban
Highlight of the day: Ashwell Prince driving Sreesanth through cover to bring up his third Test century of 2006. With Jacques Kallis having missed a few games through injuries, Prince has been South Africa's best Test batsman by a distance this year. The ecstatic celebration on the pitch was matched by the standing ovation from the dressing-room.
Lowlight of the day: Mark Benson's poor decision sent back Rahul Dravid, but he was comfortably eclipsed by two men who can do little right at the moment. Virender Sehwag flailed away for all of one ball, while Graeme Smith's attempt to catch Sachin Tendulkar was all wrists and no palm. Who said it can't get any worse?
Shot of the day: Morne Morkel was probably nervous bowling to one of the all-time greats, and Tendulkar took advantage with a magnificent square-drive that sped away across the well-manicured Kingsmead turf. For a moment, it was possible to suspend time and imagine that it was Newlands 1996 all over again.
Ball of the day: On a day when the bat held sway, there were few choices. Makhaya Ntini probably edged it, for the delivery that came in with the angle and then moved away a touch to take the edge of Wasim Jaffer's bat.
Catch of the day: Sehwag's shot may have been an eyesore, but it still needed a stupendous catch from AB de Villiers diving to his right at second slip. The natural athleticism and reflexes that allowed him to play at fly half for the Blue Bulls Under-18s at Craven Week was in ample evidence as he plucked the ball cleanly out of the air with both hands.
Message of the day: During the tea interval, Shaun Pollock was led back onto the field for a brief ceremony to honour his entry into the 400-wicket club. As his home crowd cheered, and his family looked on proudly, Pollock did what most sportsmen do in times like these. He thanked his dear ones, starting with his brother, who played with him in the backyard, and father Peter, a Springbok legend from a generation past. There was appreciation too for Trish, his wife, and just as he was about to wrap up, little Jemma waved shyly from her mother's lap. "Cute little Jem" duly got a mention, and everyone trooped off happy.
Off the park: Ishant Sharma's will-he-won't-he saga ended with a "He won't", even as the media wondered why the simple issue of giving a young player some exposure to the big-time became a cloak-and-dagger exercise instead. As for the man he was due to replace in the squad, Irfan Pathan flys home on Thursday morning, completely a spectacular fall from the heights of a Test-match hat-trick in January.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo