At stumps on another bad light-curtailed day, barely half-an-hour after tea at Kingsmead, India were 103-3, with Virender Sehwag (0), Rahul Dravid (11) and Wasim Jaffer (26) all back in the hut. But the man who all of India would be wishing makes this match his own was still there, batting on 46 --- incredibly, his highest score in Tests this year. Sachin Tendulkar.
He had played a couple of exquisite drives that had the debutant Morne Morkel probably thinking this was baptism by fire; he had cut the ball over gully with consummate ease, he had got behind the line of the ball and tapped it down; he had shifted his weight from the front to back and front again and punched it through on the up - he had stood there, resplendent, godlike in his disdain of his challengers.
And yet, he had also seemed nervous now and then, the ball had barely missed the bat a couple of times, a couple of edgy shots had streaked past the slips, one had dropped heartstoppingly short of Mark Boucher and another had given him a certain life when the luckless Graeme Smith, whose cup of woes must really have run over by now, dropped him at first slip off the fifth ball of Andrew Hall's first over. Tendulkar was then 21. In short, he had also looked very human in his awkward fragility.
But Tendulkar has been that way right through his career, so often seeming remarkably superhuman, deservingly the spring of the adrenalin rush and excited cheers that invariably accompany his every walk out to the middle, and at other times, quite compellingly mortal in his apparent vulnerability. What he himself actually feels we have got to see only in glimpses, those permitted to us, so enigmatic has he been right through. But whatever people believe, Tendulkar is just a man and would almost certainly be hoping that finally, this would be his Test.
That is something that India, both the team and the country, would also be hoping --- that one year and 26 days after his record 35th century, Tendulkar's time has come again.
For Tendulkar, these past 12 months have probably been a year like no other. Even though his obituary has been written off and on for a while now, with everything from his recurring injuries, age and erratic form being cited as reasons for him to walk into the sunset, the cries for his head have never been as vicious as they were in this year gone by.
Matters reaching a nadir when he was booed by a section of his home crowd at the Wankhede in Mumbai earlier this year. Right through all this, though, Tendulkar, for the most, has maintained that stoic, graceful calm that has seen him deal with both the very public highs and lows of his life.
But close to a 50 at this point, he will definitely be wondering whether yet another corner has been turned through sheer dogged perseverance and self-belief. If he turns that personal corner, it will also be India's Test because they would need a couple of innings of character from one of the trio of Tendulkar, Laxman (batting on 10 in the course of a 42-run stand with Tendulkar) or Sourav Ganguly (waiting his turn in the pavilion) after letting South Africa get to 328.
In fact, the hosts, who were 28/3 at one stage, would be mighty pleased with what they finally got, given that at stumps last night, they were 257/8 with only Morkel and Makhaya Ntini left to give the very impressive Ashwell Prince company.
But in the end, the No. 10 and 11 batsmen played splendidly, even as Prince marshalled the strike very well to get his 100 and ensure that South Africa got very close to the 300 mark. And after his dismissal for 121, Morkel and Ntini frustrated a fretful India for 45 minutes and delighted the locals with what could prove a vital, 32-run stand for the last wicket.
Soon after, when India walked out, it was a scene painfully familiar - Sehwag fell to the first ball he faced, edging an exuberant Nel to slips, where de Villiers leapt up to hold on to a sharp catch. Though Dravid and Jaffer promised, they could not fulfil that potential and now, so much depends on that short, stocky man with the powerfully talismanic presence.