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Downbeat on the South Africa beat

The sun rises over Nagpur ESPNcricinfo Ltd

November 23
The first bit of good news is that the sun came up in Nagpur. We had not seen it for ten days in Bangalore.

The second bit of good news is that the hotel I am staying in is only 14 kilometres from the VCA Stadium, not 20. Distance from the VCA is key, because it is the most out-of-the-way ground I have known, and there is only one road in and out. Although major traffic is not expected, it's still quite a journey in and out of the venue, so the closer you can get, the better.

The actual ground is among the best in the world: a top-class modern facility that I remember Ali Bacher raving about. Bacher is friendly with BCCI president Shashank Manohar and in awe of his commitment to providing his city with such a quality venue.

November 24
To South Africans, Nagpur conjures up three major memories, of which two are pleasant. It was where Hansie Cronje fixed a match in 2000; where Dale Steyn took 7 for 51 and Hashim Amla scored a double-hundred to win a Test in 2010; and where South Africa beat India in the 2011 World Cup. Still, it is not necessarily a place people flock to as tourists, as I am reminded when I stumble into the Jubilee Bakery (established in 1900). "We don't get many visitors here," the owner says.

I explain about the cricket and then ask about the bakery's history. The owner says his great-grandfather conceptualised it in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee and he still uses some of the recipes from back then. I am impressed and buy some peanut macaroons.

November 25
Steyn will not be able to repeat his Nagpur heroics because he is still sidelined with a groin injury, but Morne Morkel seems to be a masked doppelgänger. He pulls out a spell of reverse swing of the sort few would have though him capable of, to silence an unexpectedly large Nagpur crowd. Happily, the rumours of empty stands have been disproved. Unhappily for South Africa, it's all looking a little similar to Mohali and they are two down at stumps.

November 26
Now it looks exactly like Mohali, except that this pitch is far more spiteful. I expect Russell Domingo to say so but he refuses to complain about the pitch just yet. That night I spot zero mile - the point that marks the dead centre of India - on the way to dinner. Sounds a lot like ground zero, which South Africa might think they are at right now.

November 27
As the three-day Test comes to an end, there is a some cheer among the press corps. Veteran AFP journalist Kuldip Lal is reporting on his last game. He is presented with a cake and a round of speeches, including one from Sunil Gavaskar, who recalls his own send-off. Gavaskar was given a carpet with a portrait of him weaved into it by his team-mates as a parting gift. A nice gesture, except it would mean he'd have had to walk on his face. He framed it instead. He tells Mr Lal to be happier with the cake.

November 28
No disrespect to Nagpur but there is a scramble to get out of it. Very few want to hang around when the bright lights and big city are calling. The South African team decide to go to Pench for a day where, much to my envy, they see a tiger. I suppose after losing in that fashion, they need some cheer.

Before I leave the city, I spot some young cricketers practising in the nets of the Dr Ambedkar Sports Academy College. The facility is watched over by the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar, a stunning domed Sikh temple. Unsurprisingly, the boys are practising against spinners.

November 29
With South Africa still not in Delhi, I am free to roam. I've been told the Daryaganj book market is a good place to get lost on a Sunday morning. Booksellers take over the pavement, displaying their selection of everything from textbooks to fiction to historical works. The books are priced from as a little as Rs 10, little more than R2, which is unheard of in South Africa. I see students buying books for school, parents shopping for their children, and young people looking for an escape. I am so overwhelmed by the choke on offer that I don't end up with anything myself. At least my luggage will thank me for it.

November 30
The villages of Hauz Khas and Shahpur Jat have been highly recommended by friends and colleagues, who have described them to me as being like Cape Town's Woodstock or London's Shoreditch. Hauz Khas teems with loads of bars, cafés and clothing stores set inside the stone walls of a fort. It's magnificent but busy. Shahpur Jat is much more grown-up. I find a quiet café to work in, and spend the late afternoon wandering the lanes, peering into the little shops and enjoying the quaintness.

December 1
Delhi's air has been described as the most polluted in the world and I am starting to see why. The sky hides behind the smog and I start to feel trapped in a cloud of smoke. Obviously the number of vehicles on the road alone cannot contribute to this but since they are the thing I see the most, I begin to associate them with the air. If only everyone walked... something we tend to say in cricket too.

It's back to the Feroz Shah Kotla today for the build-up to the final Test. The ground is as sleepy as the series, which should have been a tense, tight contest but has petered out because of a tame South Africa. Nothing on site is ready for a match apart from the pitch. The Delhi and Districts Cricket Association only found out ten days ago that the match would take place at the venue and the place has not been cleaned up since the end of the IPL.

December 2
South Africa seem upbeat, though Dale Steyn is ruled out of yet another Test. He does a few drills at practice, looking looser than he did in Nagpur, and seems headed in the right direction for the England series.

There is at least one Indian resident who hopes so. Nic Dawes, the South African editor who was in charge of the Mail and Guardian back home, is now at the Hindustan Times. He lives in Delhi and hosts my partner and I. He shows us around the revamped newsroom, which houses 800 staff and we baulk. South African media houses can only dream of this sort of number. He tells us how his life has changed in Delhi and his hopes for the future of media. He also hopes South Africa will win a Test.

December 3
The Delhi police are a great source of entertainment if you can keep your cool, but today is not one of those days. My Uber driver has decided taking me halfway to Noida will be a good idea and I am going to be late for the start of the Test. Then the cops begin to recite all the things that are not allowed into the stadium. I have dutifully left coins and my pen at the hotel but they also don't want me to take my apple in. After offering it to an officer who clearly does not have a taste for fruit, I am allowed to take it in with me.

December 4
Today the police are concerned about the contact lens solution and case I have mistakenly left in my bag. "You could throw this at the players," the officer tells me. "I won't," I assure her. She lets me go.

In the end, I do want to throw something at South Africa. After a good start on day one, they throw it all away, collapse again, and make me write the same things I have been writing all series. I am not angry the way a fan would be, I am frustrated because they are better than this and they know it and I want to tell a different tale.

December 5
The laptop is under scrutiny today. "This is not allowed, madam," the police tell me. "But I am a journalist," I say. "Still, not allowed." After a rigorous debate I am allowed in. Let's not talk about South Africa.

December 6
Unprecedented. We have reached day four of a Test and the police have let me in without saying a word. They weren't expecting it to go this far either. I'm starting to feel some fatigue. So is the scoring rate. The blockathon to end all blockathons begins and I can see Adelaide and Colombo and Johannesburg in the back of my head. This is a longer, slower replay, and I have a feeling it will give way to Indian celebration in the end.

For now, the only people having a good time are the wedding party who have stopped traffic in the outer ring of Connaught Place. They have come complete with horse and carriage, their own band, and a movable tower of light. It's a spectacle of sound and celebration, and various hotel guests from the establishments in the circle step out to take pictures. One thing about Indians is that they love to party.

December 7
And party they do. After what seems the longest while but is actually only two sessions and 26 minutes, India have won the series 3-0. They soak it up in front of an appreciative crowd.

South Africa have come undone in the cruellest way. If you have ever mistakenly pulled on a piece of wool in a piece of unfinished knitting, you will know how it feels. I wonder if their stonewalling was worth it. Hashim Amla's answers don't really provide an answer. South Africa will return home hurting.

I have one more day in Delhi to get to some of the places I haven't been yet, including the Jama Masjid. I won't get to some of the other sites, like Humayun's tomb, but that's okay. I know I will be back. Maybe South Africa do too.