India's gallant attempt to win their first series in South Africa failed at the final hurdle on Saturday when the home side crawled their way to victory by five wickets in the deciding Test match at Newlands to come back from 0-1 down to clinch a nail-biting 2-1 victory.
Resuming on 55-2 needing 211 for victory, a three hour break due to rain in the middle of the day meant proceedings were not concluded until 6.15pm when Ashwell Prince, the only man to pass 300 runs in the series on either side, struck the winning runs off Sachin Tendulkar.
It was a sad way for the tour to end for India but even their most ardent fans would have to admit that they were out-thought and out-fought during the most important sessions of the Test and, most pertinently, on the final day when a particular gamble by the home side paid the richest of dividends.
Graeme Smith, set to resume on his overnight score of 21 not out, chose all-rounder Shaun Pollock as his batting partner rather than Jacques Kallis, whose temperament and naturally sedate pace of play might have allowed Anil Kumble and the rest of the Indian attack to settle and apply a suffocating noose of maiden overs. Instead, Pollock attacked Kumble from the outset and made a racing start to the day, which knocked India's bowlers and reduced the target from its overnight 156 to just 84 by the time the first wicket of the day was claimed.
The appearance of Pollock undoubtedly nonplussed the Indians but it was a move which might have been even more inspired had the rain break not snapped the momentum of a partnership which might have won the game by itself had it not been stalled by the elements. The two batsmen added 56 in the 50 minutes of play that were possible in the morning.
Dravid was required to think on his feet, having prepared his gameplan and bowling options for the more prosaic Kallis. Although he was always going to open the morning's proceedings with Zaheer Khan and Kumble, Pollock's aggressive approach left the Indian skipper gasping to close the gaps in the field and his decision not to employ a third-man was a mistake. It was also an error to use Tendulkar's lavish spinners when the match was all but lost with just a dozen runs required.
Smith enjoyed considerable good fortune in moving from his overnight 21 to 49 when the curtailed morning session ended but the three boundaries he collected from inside edges past his leg stump did not represent a consolation, never mind a wicket, and the tourists were desperate when the meteorological time-out occurred at 111-2.
If the South African dressing room was the calmer at the start of a break which lasted over three and a half hours, it was much the more agitated when play finally resumed after a series of pathetically comical attempts to clear the ground of its covers and the water on them.
The 'super-sopper' which is routinely used to suck up water from the covers had no diesel in it. Then the battery was discovered to be flat. Then it transpired that none of the ground staff were actually trained to operate it. The result was a clumsy and protracted attempt to drag the tarpaulins away from the playing square while attempting not to spill any of their contents on the playing square. For at least an hour after play should have restarted, a stony-faced Smith watched the farce unfold.
Eventually, the job was complete and a rejuvenated, revitalised India struck back almost immediately when Zaheer had Smith well caught by Dinesh Karthik for 55, his third consecutive half-century in the series. When Pollock was caught by Laxman at slip for 37, the home side had a sense of the 'impossible' at 132-4, still 79 runs short of victory.
But Kallis batted with every ounce of the calm and determination that has characterised his career to make 32 from 90 balls and guide South Africa to the brink of victory before he mistimed a pull to gift Zaheer a fourth wicket. Prince, however, was not to be denied and finished unbeaten on 38 from 103 balls when India's agony was finally ended.
For Dravid and his players, the bitter feeling that they had allowed a wonderful chance to make history to escape was set to linger for a good while yet.