Johannesburg – Dean Elgar (86*) and Hashim Amla (52) did all they could to ignite a remarkable run chase, but a lack of support from everyone else meant that the Proteas were rolled for 177 as they lost the third Test to India by 63 runs in Johannesburg on Saturday.
It means that South Africa win the series 2-1, and it is India's third ever Test win in the country.
Mohammed Shami (5/28) was the chief destroyer for the visitors in the second innings, but all of the seamers played their part with big wickets at crucial times.
Elgar was immense, carrying his bat through the entire innings.
As entertaining as this Test match proved to be, it will be remembered for providing a wicket that was deemed to be dangerous by the umpires late on day three. It got so bad that the players had to leave the field for fear of the batsmen’s safety, and the match flirted with becoming just the second Test in history to be abandoned because of a dangerous surface.
What comes of the conditions and what punishment awaits Cricket South Africa remains to be seen, but what can’t be disputed is the fact that it was the Indians who handled the testing conditions best.
Elgar and Amla had resumed on 17/1 at the start of the day following the controversial end to day three.
Saturday’s start had been delayed by an hour due to an early morning Johannesburg storm, and when the players did eventually get on the field at 11:00, India were overwhelming favourites to defend the target of 241 they had set the hosts.
The wicket, as was the case for most of the Test, was a concern once more.
A meeting between the captains, umpires and match referees after play had been suspended on Friday saw the decision taken for play to go ahead on Saturday.
Elgar and Amla were simply magnificent, defending with all they had as the wicket, with its grass and cracks, continued to make batting a nightmare.
There was nothing like the grille-shattering bouncer that Elgar took from Jasprit Bumrah on Friday evening, but the wicket still favoured the bowlers heavily and the batters did wear a few on the fingers, hands and body.
That didn’t seem to stifle Elgar and Amla, though, and the pair got through the entire first session unscathed to give the Proteas a glimmer of hope.
By the time Amla was out for 52, he had put on 119 with Elgar in a four-hour stand that lasted 306 balls.
With South Africa 124/2 and just 117 runs away from a memorable run chase in treacherous conditions, the Proteas would have backed themselves at that point.
But, on this wicket, the fielding side was never out the game.
AB de Villiers pushed a Bumrah delivery that got big on him to gully, and with their superstar out for just 6, South Africa knew that it was ‘game on’ once more.
Skipper Faf du Plessis (2) was also ineffective, though the ball that got him out would have done the same to many.
While uneven bounce was the major issue with the wicket on Friday, Saturday saw the ball moving laterally and late.
Du Plessis got both with his dismisal.
Sharma had pitched it just short of a length and outside off stump, but the movement generated left Du Plessis with no answer as he was clean bowled.
South Africa desperately needed Quinton de Kock to find some form, but it was not to be as he was out first ball to Bumrah when he was trapped plumb in front.
Vernon Philander was in next, and he looked up to the challenge with his 10 before a horrible shot saw him drag one on while trying to pull a Mohammed Shami delivery that was both too full and outside off stump.
Andile Phehlukwayo was out for 0 in the same over, undone by a quick and full delivery from Shami that he got nowhere near. As the stumps rattled, the Wanderers crowd went quiet as the inevitability of a defeat began to set in.
Elgar was standing firm, but he was running out of partners.
When he was joined by Kagiso Rabada, the Proteas still needed 84 to win with just three wickets in hand.
The Proteas speedster had played a hugely impressive innings of 30 as a night-watchman in the first innings, but he could not repeat those heroics.
When he was caught by Cheteshwar Pujara in the slips off Bhuvenshwar Kumar for 0, South Africa’s last hopes went with him.
Morne Morkel was bowled first ball by Shami for 0, and when Lungi Ngidi (4) was caught behind, Shami had five and India had their win.