Centurion:South Africa's powerful performance during the first half of the third day added so much ground to the territory captured on the previous two that the dominance of India's openers for 29 overs, their half-centuries and three dropped catches made no dent in the home team's ironclad prospects of taking a 1-0 lead in the series.
If India thought they had already hit rock bottom, they were in for the most unbelievable shock as they crashed through that and continued to free-fall. Their bowling was toothless, and South Africa infinitely more ruthless.
Under blue skies in Centurion, AB de Villiers pulverised the featherweight attack like a heavyweight might, and scored a hundred in under two hours. South Africa's lead swelled by 225 runs in 36 overs before lunch and Jacques Kallis reached his maiden double-century soon after the break. Graeme Smith declared shortly after on 620 for 4 - when de Villiers fell - with a monstrous lead of 484.
In cloudier weather, Virender Sehwag and Gambhir gave India a modicum of respite by surviving the new ball and scoring briskly. Their partnership was worth 137, but the battle for was longevity and both batsmen lost it.
Their dismissals left India with eight wickets in hand and two days to survive. They'll need a batting performance without precedent, and perhaps substantial rain as well.
That India were attempting to avoid an innings defeat so early was because their bowlers were helpless in the morning: unable to make a breakthrough, unable to control the run-rate, unable to do anything to help their cause.
Ishant Sharma was gifted a wicket but de Villiers seamlessly picked up where Hashim Amla left off. His 76-ball century was the quickest by a South African. Kallis, who until today averaged about 14 after resuming on an overnight century, added plenty more.
The maiden over de Villiers played out against Jaidev Unadkat soon after he came in - on 396 for 3 - was the lull before the hurricane. His first forceful shot was the straightest of drives, bisecting the gap between Ishant on his follow-through and the stumps.
de Villiers then executed the plan to target Harbhajan Singh to perfection. He stepped out to the offspinner's first delivery, but had to readjust to a fuller length and squirt it through point.
In Harbhajan's next over, de Villiers nimbly got down on one knee and launched the ball over deep square leg. Soon he was reverse-sweeping and his aggression rubbed off on Kallis, who had been restrained for the first hour.
The century partnership came when de Villiers danced towards Suresh Raina and caused some of the fans on the grass banks at wide long-on to rush to catch the ball. Two more consecutive sixes off Raina, a muscular pull and a slog-sweep, took de Villiers to his century.
Kallis helped himself against Raina's long-hops as well and also dismissed Sachin Tendulkar over deep midwicket.
India were using part-timers because the form of the specialists left MS Dhoni with few options. After the battering on the second day, India were desperate for a stronger start, and Sreesanth began with a no-ball, complementing his first-ball wide yesterday.
Ishant was better but one of his fielding efforts was indicative of India's morale. Sreesanth had delivered a short ball, Amla had pulled, and Ishant, having just completed an over, jogged along the boundary and made no effort to save the four. Some Indians glared at him, but no one's performances lifted.
Smith might have declared at lunch but Kallis was 18 short of a double-hundred. He got there by glancing Jaidev Unadkat to fine leg to spark off tumultuous applause at SuperSport Park.
de Villiers was celebrating for his partner with arms aloft, and the South Africans in the dressing room clapped vigorously. Kallis took off his helmet, revealing his flushed face and full shock of hair, and raised his arms aloft.
He had flung that monkey off his back after 142 Tests and his fans cheered for longer than usual.
The pitch had certainly eased for even Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel were unable to extract as much assistance from it on the third day. Their pace and bounce made a difference though.
Gambhir was hit on his glove and thigh off successive short balls from Morkel, but grew more assured once he survived that period.
Sehwag, bristling after his first-innings duck, slashed and drove repeatedly square on the off side, even though several fielders were waiting for the catch.
Smith brought Tsotsobe into the attack in the eighth over and Sehwag blazed his second ball over wide long-on for six and the fourth over point.
He continued to attack Tsotsobe but one powerful but airy drive was dropped by Amla at short cover. The chance was extremely difficult and Sehwag was on 34.
With few men protecting the boundary on a fast outfield, Sehwag and Gambhir got terrific value for their shots and scored at around six an over. On 43 and 62, Gambhir was put down by Alviro Petersen at point.
Sehwag, however, skied Paul Harris to Smith at deep cover, and Gambhir was lbw to one that kept low from Steyn. Those blows before the light faded in Centurion tightened South Africa's vice-like grip on the Test.