To a catalogue of shame that reads Jamaica 2002, Bangalore 2005 and Mumbai 2006, you can now add the Kingsmead game. Expecting India to bat out time to save a game has now become as much an exercise in futility as asking a wino to stay away from the bottle. The nadir was reached in the Bangalore game, where nine wickets fell in a calamitous passage of play after lunch, but they came pretty close to that on Saturday, with the remaining four top-order batsmen lasting just 15.4 overs.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth illustrated what might have been possible had their supposed betters shown a little more application and, if India do go on to surrender this series in Cape Town, they will forever wonder how much of a difference 10 minutes more from each top-order batsman might have made.

With the exception of Rahul Dravid, wrongly given out, and Sachin Tendulkar, who got perhaps the ball of the day from Makhaya Ntini, each man was as culpable as the other. Wasim Jaffer had batted beautifully for his 28, but then produced a shot from hell to throw it away. Given that Ntini was pounding them down at 140 km/h, it was harder to pull a ball pitched a couple of feet outside the off stump and sailing over the head than it was to leave it alone.

If that was atrocious, what followed was diabolical. Sourav Ganguly literally exhausted every get-out option before an elegant steer straight into the hands of gully. Given that he had already tried outside edge, inside edge and top edge, there was a certain irony in being dismissed playing one off the middle of the bat.

Through the madness, VVS Laxman had appeared the most likely to steer India to safety, but with Andrè Nel bringing the ball back in consistently from just short of a length, he was being pushed further and further back. When Nel did eventually pitch one a little fuller, Laxman was caught in the middle of the crease with bat angling somewhere towards midwicket. The ball clipped the off bail.

It hasn't helped that India start as badly as a vintage car on a cold winter's morning. As a partnership, Jaffer and Sehwag are clearly not Langer and Hayden, and one of them will surely spend the Cape Town Test on the waterfront, if not with the feet up inside the pavilion. And with Dravid taken out of the equation, only Laxman looked like he had even a remote clue about batting out time.

Dhoni did it his way, like a trapeze artist without the safety net, and deserves immense plaudits for the manner in which he batted through the pain. Having had his sore and swollen fingers crunched off the first ball he faced, he might have been forgiven for backing away and having a go. Instead, he played superbly within his limitations to inspire thoughts of a great escape. But for the tireless Nel inducing a grand drive, it might even have happened.

As they head to Cape Town and a series decider, India need to look closely at their tendency to follow a climb up Mount Everest with a descent into the Mariana Trench. It happened in the Boxing Day Test of 2003 [following the win at Adelaide], and was followed by an abject defeat in Lahore a week on from victory in Multan. The none-too-proud tradition was carried on at Bangalore against Pakistan - on the back of a win at Kolkata - and at Mumbai against England. Maybe there's something in the celebratory champagne but whatever it is, they've become so predictable that it's boring.

Having come plummeting down from that Wanderers high, India must reassess their strengths and weaknesses. As Ian Bishop said after the game, they now have a pace attack that can trouble most teams on a seam-friendly pitch, with Munaf Patel certain to beef it up at Newlands. The batting is another matter. A performance in keeping with over-inflated reputations would be a fine thing, especially for their bowling mates who have spilled their guts on the field in vain.