Durban:The Durban Test continued to be a cracker, with the game see-sawing on the third day before bad light ended play with the teams level. In the morning, VVS Laxman produced his seemingly customary second-innings gem to defy South Africa's bowlers and put India in control by swelling the lead towards 300.
South Africa then had a dream second session nipping out the remaining three wickets in under 10 overs, before their batsmen began whittling down the target confidently. India were the better side after tea, hustling out two wickets to keep the game finely balanced.
India could have been ahead had Cheteshwar Pujara latched on to a sharp, knee-high catch at backward short-leg to remove Jacques Kallis for a duck. The chance went down, and the performance of Kallis, who has a better statistical second-innings record than Laxman, on the fourth day could decide the fate of the series.
Laxman had earlier strung together the two biggest Indian partnerships of the match, first with MS Dhoni and then with Zaheer Khan, to set South Africa the stiff task of chasing 303.
South Africa wouldn't have expected such a tall target when a steepler from Morne Morkel had Cheteshwar Pujara playing on in the second over of the day. Both Morkel and Dale Steyn were getting late swing, and with the odd delivery rearing up, life was hard for Laxman and Dhoni.
There were several air-drives and edged boundaries past and over the slips. To South Africa's dismay, the pair didn't just survive, but scored quickly as well, with a bunch of fours from Dhoni helping raise 41 in seven overs.
Just as Indian nerves were being soothed, Lonwabo Tsotsobe produced the breakthough. He had Dhoni poking at a delivery angling across, feathering an edge to Mark Boucher. Harbhajan Singh fell three overs later, rooted in the crease as he prodded at one from Morkel, and edged to the safe hands of Kallis at second slip.
The lead was 212, and South Africa sensed a quick end to the innings, but Zaheer and Laxman tilted the game towards India with a 70-run stand.
A long partnership didn't look likely given the way Zaheer started his innings: looking to swipe nearly every delivery out of the ground, and rarely connecting. Laxman had his share of fortune as well, inside-edging to square-leg to become the first player to make a half-century in the game.
A french-cut from Laxman also raced past the off stump, and he carried on unflustered, either by his edges or Zaheer's impetuous strokes. He worked the gaps to move almost un-noticed towards yet another second-innings century, and with Kallis and Paul Harris bowling, the pressure eased off, and the runs started to flow.
Zaheer also played his part. He had sparked India to life with the ball on Monday, and his aggression with the bat paid off today. He didn't mind the swing-and-misses, or the umpteen lbw appeals - including a dead-plumb one off Steyn that was turned down - and kept going for his shots.
The first session ended with India in charge, emphasised by a couple of powerful Zaheer boundaries off the last two deliveries before lunch, but South Africa hit back by closing out the innings for the addition of just 10 runs after the break.
The home side had to make the highest total of the match in the final innings, a challenge to which Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen responded by scoring at five an over.
Zaheer has generally had the better of Smith in their previous encounters, though this time the batsman blasted four fours off Zaheer's first two overs to have South Africa racing out of the blocks.
The swing and bounce that the South African bowlers had consistently extracted went missing, as Petersen too began to punish the bowling.
They had galloped to 63 for 0 an over before tea, when Sreesanth, riled after a verbal exchange with Smith, ended the South African captain's belligerent innings with a short ball that was top-edged, to revive India's flagging spirits.
There was more for them to celebrate soon after as Petersen fell to Harbhajan and Hashim Amla ended the best year of his career with an appalling shot, chasing a wide one from Sreesanth.
Kallis wasn't his usual rock-solid self, surviving due to Pujara's drop and then top-edging a pull short of mid-on before making his first run.
The light began to deteriorate and both Kallis and AB de Villiers were watchful, except against the rank-bad balls, to guide South Africa to stumps, and set up another riveting day at Kingsmead.