Two South African wickets were on the funeral pyre but captain Dean Elgar was holding firm as the Proteas reached 118/2 at stumps on the third day of the second Test against India at the Wanderers on Wednesday, needing another 122 runs for an unlikely victory.
Elgar had survived for three hours, scoring a typically determined 46 not out as he occupied the crease for 121 deliveries. He will have Rassie van der Dussen, who has dug in for 11 not out, for company on Thursday morning as they look to chase down a target of 240 for a series-levelling victory. Defeat will mean India win a series in South Africa for the first time.
The Proteas skipper shared in two important partnerships at the top of the innings as the home side made the sort of solid start that was absolutely essential as they set off for what would be their third-highest successful run-chase in South Africa.
Aiden Markram looked in fine touch as he breezed to 31 off 38 balls, putting on 47 for the first wicket with Elgar in just 10 overs, before an in-ducker from Shardul Thakur hit him on the back knee and he was given out lbw in the third over after tea. It was the culmination of an impressive over from the paceman who took seven wickets in the first innings.
Keegan Petersen then scored an enterprising 28, adding 46 for the second wicket with Elgar before going right back on to his stumps to a delivery from off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and being trapped lbw.
That delivery turned quite sharply, just to add to the mountain South Africa already have to climb. Puffs of sand are occasionally apparent as the ball lands on the deteriorating pitch and the batsmen have to deal with variable bounce as well as movement, some of it exaggerated if the delivery hits a crack.
India began the day on 85/2, leading by 58, and the Proteas made their life much harder by a woeful bowling performance in the first hour. It allowed Cheteshwar Pujara (53) and Ajinkya Rahane (58) to pile on the runs, the embattled duo regaining form in brave fashion as they added 111 in 105 minutes.
But Kagiso Rabada came with a massive effort after the first drinks break, removing both and taking three wickets in successive overs as he had Rishabh Pant caught behind for a duck, the left-hander foolishly charging down the pitch and trying to the champion fats bowler into the stands.
India made it to 266 and a sizeable lead thanks to Hanuma Vihari wrangling the lower-order and finishing with 40 not out, while Thakur added a quickfire 28.
Lungi Ngidi finished with another three wickets and Marco Jansen added to the mounting excitement over his international career by taking 3/67 to give him seven wickets in the match.