Makhaya Ntini (5 for 48) ran through the top order as India were shot out for 179 in just over 55 overs to give South Africa a deserving 174-run win and to level the series at 1-1 with one Test to play. Intermittently, however, not everything ran according to the script.
Tempers frayed, words were exchanged, short balls were banged in and trenches dug as the Indian tail did its utmost to keep South Africa at bay long enough for the fading light to do the rest. But when Andrew Hall knocked over Sreesanth the South Africans erupted in wild celebrations.
When India lost their top six wickets in under 29 overs, thanks to a tireless Ntini firing on all cylinders, they were in danger of being humiliated, not just defeated. However, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who took a nasty blow on an already bruised index finger first up, played very sensibly for close to two hours. It did not seem far-fetched to hope at that point that defeat which seemed so imminent could now be staved off.
Earlier, the procession to the dressing-room began as soon as play got under way, after a 55-minute delay to the start. In just the fourth ball of the final morning, with the light having improved significantly for play to get under way, the shadows lengthened on India's chances of saving the Test as Sachin Tendulkar was trapped in front of the stumps by a pacy delivery from Ntini that speared in, beat the bat and thudded into pad. Asad Rauf, the umpire, had a long, hard look and gave the decision - correctly - in South Africa's favour. India had lost a big, big wicket without adding to their overnight score, and at 38 for 3, were in deep trouble.
Wasim Jaffer had a momentary lapse of concentration - and reason - playing an overambitious pull shot to a short ball pitched well outside the off stump from Ntini. Jaffer was in no position to play the shot, and India were in no position for it to warrant him attempting this shot. The ball ballooned up in the air for Andre Nel to catch at mid-on. Jaffer's stroke was an unbelievable one, and coming as it did, on the back of quick wickets, is sure to attract some comment from the captain and coach.
Fortunately for India respite came in the form of more bad light, as Ian Howell, the stand-in umpire, and Rauf, offered the light to Laxman and Ganguly and they were off in a flash. There was still plenty of hard work left for the Indians, even with all the breaks in play for light, and Ntini, with 4 for 15 to his name already, was on fire and chomping on the bit to have another crack at the batsmen.
And that came soon after the early lunch break. Ntini made it five for the innings as he took South Africa closer to victory when he had Ganguly caught at gully. Ganguly, who was doing his best to tough it out in the middle, had got away with a streaky pull shot that he top-edged over fine-leg, but his luck was to run out shortly. A shortish delivery outside the off from Ntini, slanting away, proved too tempting to resist, and Ganguly could only open the face of the bat and steer the ball straight to gully. It was catching practice for Herschelle Gibbs, who made no mistake with the catch, but then erred in behaviour, pointing the way towards the dressing-room. There was little need for that, but at 83 for 5 South Africa had picked up he scent of a win and the adrenalin was pumping.
Nel, pumped up all morning while his partner was picking up wickets at the other end, came to the party in the post-lunch session when VVS Laxman played across the line and missed to a ball that came in and hit the top of middle-stump. Laxman seemed stunned at the dismissal, appeared to suggest that the ball did not bounce enough as he expected, but that particular delivery didn't actually keep low. On his part, Anil Kumble did not attempt anything expansive, and fought hard to keep out Nel and Ntini, but he received a snorter from Hall. A ball took off unexpectedly from a good length, and all Kumble could do was fend to leg where Hashim Amla, under the helmet, gobbled up the ball.
Then came that last-ditch effort from Dhoni. There was no sign of the booming blows that has made him a household name in India, instead there was hard graft. He showed positive intent, trying to get on the front foot whenever possible, and with attacking fields being set, there were opportunities to score and he cashed in on them. He fell just two minutes before the scheduled tea break, and once again opened the door that South Africa's bowlers had been trying to barnstorm all day. He had played impeccably well to get to 47, with ten boundaries, but an expansive drive off Nel only resulted in a snick which Mark Boucher snapped up, diving energetically to his right.
Zaheer Khan took over the stonewalling, and showed that he was no mug with the bat, hanging around for 56 balls for 21. But in the end he got a ball from Nel that got big on him, and could only fend to Hall in the slips cordon. Incredibly, even after that dismissal, the Indian tail did not throw it away. Sreesanth hung in there, even after being struck a painful blow on the elbow of his bowling arm. But when the umpire got one wrong, giving Sreesanth out caught behind when the ball had clearly gone off the shoulder, it was all over for India as South Africa earned a deserving triumph.