South Africa enjoyed the best of yet another truncated day as they built up a lead of 152 but some of their advantage was cut back when bad light stopped play at a little over 4.30 pm local time, much to Graeme Smith's apparent displeasure. India were doubly fortunate because, had it not been for a rock-solid innings from VVS Laxman and some useful runs down the order from Sreesanth, they wouldn't have reached their eventual 240, being reduced first to 123 for 5 and then 183 for 8.
Laxman played the kind of innings that India have come to expect of him in the recent past. He took blows on the body, left alone what he could, played with assurance when he did, and placed the highest possible price on his wicket. He kept one end sealed, remaining not out on an even 50 even as wickets fell at the other end.
When the day began, overcast and cooler than the previous two, there was still the hope that Sachin Tendulkar, who had played some special shots on the second day, would go on and make a big one and lead India out of the woods. And the beginning was good, as Tendulkar brought up his first half-century of 2006 with a classy drive back past the bowler. Makhaya Ntini was in for some more punishment as a Tendulkar punch through point raced away to the boundary. But he had the last laugh, as a ball just kept coming in to Tendulkar as he attempted to force the ball to third-man and only managed a nick to the keeper. Tendulkar, who had made 63, was just not in the best position to play the shot.
Sourav Ganguly defended the first ball he faced to the off side without much trouble but the second one sent him packing. Ntini banged the ball in short and it was angled across the body, and Ganguly appeared to pick the ball up late, if at all, as he fended awkwardly, and only managed to spoon a catch to point. Ganguly gone for a duck and India were in trouble at 125 for 5.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni walked out to bat in no position to showcase his talent, and had to knuckle down alongside Laxman and help India inch towards safety. Andre Nel, however, made the mistake of pitching the ball up a touch too far, and Dhoni picked off consecutive cracking boundaries, through point and mid-off, but that was the exception rather than the rule. Morne Morkel was similarly picked off for a brace of boundaries in one over, and all of a sudden Dhoni was scoring at a good pace.
Shaun Pollock - who for reasons known only to his captain did not get the new ball - made traditional misers look profligate as he rammed the ball through to the keeper with metronomic efficiency. In the whole innings, only four balls of his were scored off, and his bowling figures scarcely did justice to the pressure he built up. Morkel, however, benefited, sending one down on a length that invited Dhoni to drive, and found the edge, with AB de Villiers gobbling up the offering in the slips cordon. Dhoni had made 34 from only 39 balls with seven boundaries.
Laxman, in the meantime, had batted more than three hours for a little more than twenty runs, and he would have been aghast as Anil Kumble, usually the most sensible of tail-end batsmen, had an expansive drive at a slightly wide ball from Morkel and edged to Boucher. The first wicket on debut sent Morkel into celebration, but the second gave him time to get used to the idea that he was playing for his country at the highest level.
Sreesanth came out to bat with a steely look in his eyes and carved out 28 in an invaluable 52-run partnership for the tenth wicket. He took a couple of blows on the body, and initially played a couple of streaky shots to the third-man region, but soon got into his groove and began to pound the ball to all parts. He did not back away from the ball but managed to make good contact with the straight bat and heaving across the line. He even advanced down the pitch to the fast bowlers, showing plenty of positive intent.
Laxman, after initially protecting Sreesanth, soon realised that there were some useful runs to be had and rotated the strike. Laxman himself was solid as a rock, and very little went past him as he resisted for as many as 156 balls to be unbeaten on an even 50. Sreesanth's merry swinging came to an end when he played one shot too many and nicked to the keeper, and VRV Singh, after creaming one through cover, feathered Pollock to Mark Boucher behind the stumps.
Having picked up a lead of 88 South Africa proceeded to ram the advantage home as the openers, Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers, weathered a probing early spell to rack up an unbeaten opening stand of 64. Smith, who has been short of form and runs, was given a thorough working over by Zaheer Khan early on, but managed to keep his wicket intact. de Villiers played and missed plenty, but crunched some robust drives through the off side to reach 31 when play was called off. South Africa, on 64 for no loss, with a lead of 152, were right in control at the end of the third day.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo
Dileep Premachandran at Durban
Highlight of the day: Mornè Morkel had bowled nine overs without suggesting that he was ready for the step-up to Test level. One ball can change all that, and the first of his 10th over jagged away a teeny bit after pitching. Mahendra Singh Dhoni did his best with a flashing drive, as did AB de Villiers with a good low catch at second slip, and Morkel could celebrate the first of what will be many wickets.
Lowlight of the day: The power outage overshadowed poor shot selection from some of the Indians. Soon after tea, one of the cables supplying power to several parts of the city suffered a glitch, and an already gloomy Kingsmead became even darker with the floodlights shutting down. Normal service resumed only 37 minutes later, but by the time the players emerged, only eight more balls were deemed possible.
Shot of the day: Sreesanth hit one pristine off-drive off Andrew Hall, and was so impressed himself that he held the pose even as he was running down the pitch. Bat manufacturers the world over have been alerted.
Ball of the day: Makhaya Ntini produced a snorter to Sourav Ganguly. Short of a length and directed at the pectorals, it had Ganguly fending haplessly to gully. After all the talk of chin music, here was one note heard loud and clear.
Catch of the day: de Villiers's effort to send back Dhoni was competent rather than spectacular, but on a day where every other catch was a gimmie, it takes the unfinished cake.
Message of the day: VRV Singh's first attempt at a scoring shot was the retreat to leg and the wild swings. Having clattered an entertaining 29 at the Wanderers, his one-shot repertoire has clearly captured the imagination. "Put some more shoulder into it," yelled one wag from the grassy bank, and sure enough the next ball was thumped through the covers for four.
Off the park: Mark Benson was resting in hospital after being taken unwell, and the two men in the middle - Asad Rauf and Ian Howell, the replacement - were due to pay their colleague a visit on Thursday evening. In the vicinity of the commentary box, some moaned about Durban's unsuitability as a venue at this time of year. Hardly a match has been completed here without the weather intervening in some way.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo