At the start of the final day, India stood on the edge. On one side was the stairway to immortality. Had they held out on the final day and drawn the game, they would have become the first India side to tour South Africa and not lose a Test. The fact that they were a young side would have added to the folklore.
On the other, they stared at the depth where India teams of over a decade back had languished, always losing a series here. They would have undone the good work of the previous touring side that had drawn in 2010/11, though the record of losing a Test remained in place.
It was always going to be a test of character against the world No. 1 side, which had the extra inspiration of playing for the retiring Jacques Kallis and giving him a fitting farewell.
Dale Steyn had spoken about having tears in his eyes when he heard about Kallis's retirement; on Monday, Graeme Smith said he knew it well before the Test although he maintained equilibrium. It is tough to guess what the real mood in the home camp was, but on Monday morning Steyn gave a hint of it as he breathed fire.
This young India side had held out well and shown the guts and gumption in the face of fury at many stages of this series. Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara, now the fulcrum of the batting, were always going to be the key if India were to draw this Test and series.
No review system
Over the past few years, India's stance against the Decision Review System (DRS) has caused a few heartburns but the board has stuck to its guns saying it is not foolproof and is expensive.
Skipper MS Dhoni said after the match that teams that once supported DRS are having second thoughts — he was probably referring to this year's Ashes in England.
But if ever the DRS was needed, and entered the minds of Indian fans, it was after the day's first ball. A Steyn ripper brushed Kohli's shoulder and went to 'keeper AB de Villiers, but the umpire raised his finger. A stunned Kohli stood his ground and kept staring back but there was no way they could have reviewed.
The crack had developed, and then Steyn produced a delivery that moved just enough to whiz past Cheteshwar Pujara's bat to clip the bails. The structure was now falling and when Rohit Sharma, after getting his highest score of 25 on this tour, was trapped leg-before, the writing was on the wall.
The handful of South African fans at the ground seemed pretty desperate to see this side win it for Kallis. At one point, a couple of fans screamed, asking Graeme Smith to take the new ball immediately after 80 overs and end the resistance put up by India's tail.
They had seen Dhoni delay it on Sunday without any positive outcome in terms of reverse swing. When Smith didn't react, one of them rushed to Robin Peterson on the boundary line to ask him whether the new ball had been taken.
Peterson nodded and soon India's last two wickets were mopped up. Smith and Co faced just too little to be challenged.
That India did not have a Steyn to scalp a few wickets for pride didn't help matters.