Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar smashed centuries before South Africa fought back with three quick wickets on the second day of the final Test in Kolkata.
|Bat out of hell: Sehwag's century was bad news for South Africa [AFP]
Opener Sehwag smashed 165 and Tendulkar carved out a spectacular 106 to help the tourists take a first-innings lead of 46 at Eden Gardens on Monday.
India were 342 for five at the close on the second day, with Sehwag scoring his 19th Test century – and second in a row – and Tendulkar extending his world record to 47 with his fourth straight hundred.
The tourists staged a late recovery when they dismissed both the century-makers plus Subramaniam Badrinath for one.
Nightwatchman Amit Mishra was at the crease with VVS Laxman when stumps were drawn.
India, who lost the first Test in Nagpur by an innings and six runs, need a win to square the series and retain their number one position in the official Test rankings.
South Africa are bidding to leapfrog the hosts at the top of the standings and record a first Test-series victory on Indian soil in almost a decade.
And coach Corrie van Zyl said they were still in with a chance of that achievement.
"It was a very hard day for us," he said.
"There was some really good batting, but we also did not execute our game plans particularly well today.
"I think those last three wickets, out of which two were really big ones, has set us up for a good day tomorrow."
Sehwag and Tendulkar shared in a stand of 249 for the third wicket to put the South African attack to the sword after India had dismissed the tourists, who lead the series 1-0, for 296.
Indian paceman Zaheer Khan took the last South African wicket in the fourth over of the morning after the tourists had resumed on 266-9.
South Africa first innings (o/n 266-9)
G Smith b Zaheer 4
A Petersen c Dhoni b Zaheer 100
H Amla c Dhoni b Zaheer 114
J Kallis c Laxman b Harbhajan 10
A de Villiers run out 12
A Prince lbw b Harbhajan 1
J Duminy lbw b Harbhajan 0
D Steyn lbw b Mishra 5
P Harris c Dhoni b Ishant 1
W Parnell lbw b Zaheer 12
M Morkel not out 11
Total (all out; 85 overs) 296
FoW 1-9 2-218 3-229 4-251 5-253 6-253 7-254 8-255 9-261
India first innings
G Gambhir run out 25
V Sehwag c Prince b Duminy 165
M Vijay c de Villiers b Morkel 7
S Tendulkar c Kallis b Harris 106
V Laxman not out 9
S Badrinath b Steyn 1
A Mishra not out 1
Total (for 5; 76 overs) 342
FoW 1-73 2-82 3-331 4-335 5-336
Sehwag, one of the most destructive batsmen in world cricket, overshadowed his illustrious partner as he lashed 23 fours and two sixes in a show of audacious strokeplay.
Facing just 174 deliveries, he tore into the fast bowlers as he lashed the new-ball pair of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel for three fours in an over each in a breathtaking display of raw power and exquisite timing.
Sehwag blasted his first 44 runs in 22 deliveries to give India a blazing 73-run start along with Gautam Gambhir, who was needlessly run out for 25.
Number three batsman Murali Vijay was dismissed for seven off Morkel.
Sehwag exploited the width, pace and bounce that the South African bowlers offered, reaching his century with a punch off paceman Wayne Parnell through point.
The opener offered a stumping chance on 129 that was missed by AB de Villiers who kept wicket after Mark Boucher was ruled out with a back injury before the match.
Left-arm spinner Paul Harris resorted to a defensive leg-side line against the pair in an attempt to dry up runs and achieved success late after he frustrated Tendulkar.
Sehwag was caught at short cover off spinner JP Duminy, who bowled just one over, and Tendulkar was caught off Harris, while Badrinath, who scored a fifty on his debut in the first Test, was fired out by Steyn as all three fell for just four runs.
Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh finished with 3-64 to play a key role in India's fightback after debutant Alviro Petersen and Hashim Amla scored centuries to give South Africa a solid start.