At Centurion, December 16-20, 2010. South Africa won by an innings and 25 runs. Toss: South Africa. Test debut: J. D. Unadkat.
India enjoyed the considerable consolation of Sachin Tendulkar's 50th Test century, but were otherwise wretched and were duly thrashed. Every team has bad days, of course - or even four consecutive ones, as was the case in this match - but what made the defeat so hard to bear was its nature. Meek and submissive, just as had been the case with previous Indian teams in South Africa, and just as they had sworn would not be the case this time.
Torrential rain produced flash floods in town, but the match was still able to start only four hours late under grey, overcast skies and on a pitch offering decent but not lavish assistance to the seamers. The tourists were flung instantly on to the back foot - literally and metaphorically - by a single shot of the utmost stupidity, played by Sehwag before he had scored. He disregarded that most unusual of field placements, third man, and slashed wildly at a full, wide delivery from Steyn which flew perfectly into the hands of Amla, who was clearly not stationed there to save runs.
Tendulkar briefly but beautifully counter-attacked until a Steyn delivery swung too fast and too late for him, but it was Steyn's new-ball partner, Morkel, who enjoyed the greater success, with a career-best five for 20 which flattered him not a bit. Making full use of his height and bowling regularly in excess of 150kph (93mph), he hit the seam constantly and enthralled his home crowd with three spells of previously unattained control and pressure in which he looked able, even likely, to take a wicket with every delivery.
Exactly as forecast, the second day dawned hot and sunny. India really did have the worst of conditions with bat and ball, but it still wasn't enough to excuse their ineptitude in either discipline. Smith and Petersen were measured and assured during their century opening partnership - but also untested; neither was required to work hard or look for runs, because there was a steady supply on offer. But their scoring-rate of four an over was made to look pedestrian by the carnage which followed.
Amla initially set the tone during a third-wicket stand of 230 with Kallis, but soon found that his more illustrious partner was not only keeping up but outscoring him. Amla was at his quintessential best, buffering bursts of scoring with reflective periods, almost as though he was wary of being greedy.
Kallis, meanwhile, was on a mission. His 130-ball century was the fastest of the 38 in his Test career, and he maintained almost the same pace in slaying the albatross around his neck, the much talked-about lack of a double-century. It finally arrived with a glance to the fine-leg boundary off Jayder Unadkat - his 15th four, to go with five sixes - from 267 balls, in a shade under six and a half hours.
The dressing-room balcony was a picture of riotous celebration, characterised by a Smith grin which was too big for his face, while on the field Kallis managed to maintain a degree of decorum… just. After looking heavenwards and dedicating the elusive double to his late father, Henry, he acknowledged his team-mates' delight by playing a golf shot with his bat. It later transpired that the reclusive South African billionaire Johann Rupert had offered him honorary life membership at his exclusive luxury resort of Leopard Creek on the border of the Kruger National Park. Effectively it meant free golf for Kallis (and all his mates) at one of the continent's finest resort courses.
The irony of the innings itself, however, was that it was completely overshadowed as a spectacle - by Kallis's own admission - by what was happening at the other end, where de Villiers was shattering the record for the fastest Test century by a South African. He was helped by an exhausted and dispirited mainstream attack, and the introduction of Raina, whose offbreaks would have looked out of their depth in the Indian Under-15 team. Or the Uttar Pradesh Under-15s, for that matter. De Villiers - who had made South Africa's highest individual score in the previous Test, against Pakistan - was playing virtual trick shots in between spanking terrible deliveries over the fence. It may have been one-sided, but there could be no arguing with the precision and viciousness with which de Villiers handled the bowlers in reaching 100 from just 75 deliveries, fully 20 quicker than South Africa's previous-fastest (where balls faced are known), by Denis Lindsay, Shaun Pollock and Jonty Rhodes. Unadkat, a 19-year-old left-arm medium-pacer from Saurashtra, had taken 13 wickets on his first-class debut earlier in 2010, but found Test cricket somewhat harder.
India's second innings was much better than their first. It couldn't have been worse. Gambhir fought hard and Sehwag belatedly showed that he was capable of tempering his aggression, making 63. Dravid was typically stoic, then Dhoni added 172 with the imperious Tendulkar, whose milestone 50th Test century received the attention and adulation it deserved despite all the other records which had preceded it in this match. Necessity determined what it was: an innings full of skill and discipline rarely seen before against Steyn and Morkel. Such was the effect of his technique that Steyn admitted that he had "given up trying to get him out once he'd reached about 40. I was just attacking the other guy."
South Africa were cock-a-hoop at the scale of their victory, and speculation was skyhigh about the possibility of completing a 3-0 clean sweep and usurping India at the top of the Test rankings. Nobody foresaw what was to happen just six days later.
Man of the Match: J. H. Kallis. Close of play: First day, India 136-9 (Dhoni 33, Unadkat 1); Second day, South Africa 366-2 (Amla 116, Kallis 102); Third day, India 190-2 (Dravid 28, Sharma 7); Fourth day, India 454-8 (Tendulkar 107, Sreesanth 3).
Neil Manthorp is a South African broadcaster and journalist, and head of the MWP Sport agency