Dale Steyn let rip one short and Sachin Tendulkar, for once foxed by the slow bounce of the Centurion Park pitch, turned away as the ball thudded into his left forearm.
The master turned away, his face hardly betraying the pain as Steyn stood and watched for a moment as if in deference, before returning to his bowling mark. The fast bowler knew whose day it was, regardless of the situation in the first Test.
Sachin Tendulkar had just struck a majestic 50th Test century to achieve a significant milestone in a classy career littered with records. The golden milestone could be so crucial to India as they still hung in there when rain forced the fourth day's play to stop early.
The master batsman was unbeaten on 107 after a tremendous effort with skipper MS Dhoni kept India just afloat with the danger of an innings defeat very much there.
South Africa, who had declared their first innings 484 runs ahead had pegged the visitors to 454 for eight with S. Sreesanth giving Tendulkar company.
South Africa snapped up four wickets in the morning before Tendulkar and Dhoni raised 172 runs for the seventh wicket. As the partnership developed, there was attention on only one man, as it has happened so many times in his 21-year career.
Huge groans drowned the stadium every time a slip fielder even caught a bump ball off Tendulkar's bat. It was an expression of relief, be it South African or Indian fans. Despite a sensational season, he had missed out on this one but he could not be denied this time. He lofted spinner Paul Harris for a six to ease into the 90s before reaching the milestone hundred.
As much as one relished the special knock, there would be no escaping the pain if it does not save India from defeat which looked imminent. Still the knock infused fresh life into the Indian team for the series. The century has ensured the fifth day's play and hopefully India can atleast save the ignominy of an innings defeat.
Dhoni deserved special praise for the aggressive knock he came up with until he was out for 80, missing out on a deserved century. India appeared to be going down fast with the quick fall of Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Suresh Raina when the captain walked in and launched a ferocious counterattack.
His technique may pale in comparison with Sachin Tendulkar but his courage and determination was a perfect counter against the fire-breathing bowling attack.
The duo, while they were together, even raised slim hopes of saving the match. They had shared in the big partnership and looked on their way to seeing off the day unbeaten. Just when the hope was gradually shifting into the realms on probability, a Steyn scorcher induced an edge from Dhoni's bat to land safely in the waiting hands of Mark Boucher.
India may not escape defeat, but they have surely avoided humiliation. Tendulkar and Dhoni will hope the positives from their partnership will rub off on the team when they travel to Durban for the second test. India's first innings capitulation did come in distinctly bowler friendly conditions, but the master batsman would be the first to admit it cannot be an excuse.