South Africa finished day 4 at 138 for 2, still having eight wickets to draw the game or needing 320 runs to win it.
India were still left plenty to do on the final day of the first Test as the hosts finished the fourth day on 138 for 2, still 320 shy of India's target of 458 but still very much having a chance of drawing the game when they come out to bat on Sunday.
South Africa lost both Graeme Smith (44) and Hashim Amla (4) in the space of ten runs, which gave India some fillip going into the final day, but the visitors knew that they would need to strike hard in the morning session on Sunday or the dream of registering a remarkable win away from home would fade away quickly.
When stumps were drawn on the fourth day, Alviro Petersen (76*) and Faf du Plessis (10*) were still at the crease for the hosts.
India lost four wickets in the morning session. But despite losing the set batsmen, Cheteshwar Pujara (153) and Virat Kohli (96), India remained in a strong position. Pujara, unbeaten on 135 overnight, got to his 150 soon after the day's play began. He was looking set for his third Test double ton before getting caught behind off Jacques Kallis.
There were few raised eyebrows with Kallis' performance with the bat lately. But the most senior member of the Proteas team rose to the occasion - this time with the ball. He did not let the absence of Morne Morkel felt as much as it could have.
He struck with the wicket of Rohit Sharma (6), who was a little unlucky as a length delivery from Kallis hit one of the many cracks on the pitch and went underneath his bat to hit the stumps. Kohli would have got his second century of the Test - the only Indian batsman after the greats Vijay Hazare, Sunil Gavaskar and Rahul Dravid to have achieved such a feat - had he not got a little cheeky with his stroke play. Seeing the short third man slightly wider, he tried a late cut off JP Duminy, edging it back to AB de Villiers behind.
India lost Ajinkya Rahane (15) at the stroke of lunch but they still went into the break with a commanding 394-run lead.
Ashwin didn't last long, looping one softly to Faf du Plessis at covers off Philander. The seam bowler was vociferous in his caught behind appeal against MS Dhoni (29), but to the dismay of Philander and the South African fielders, umpire Steve Davis gave him not out. But he got Dhoni out in the same over when the Indian captain was holed out when he tried to clear a wide delivery over the point boundary.
With India looking for quick runs, Zaheer (29*) too crunched a few sixes - one off Tahir, another off Steyn - before Tahir finished getting Ishant (4) and Mohammed Shami (4) to end the Indian innings.
South Africa had a good hour's play to deal with before the tea interval and both Alviro Petersen and Smith kept the probing Indian bowlers at bay. Petersen had a close leg before shout against him off Mohammed Shami but umpire Rod Tucker was spot on as the ball clipped the batsman's pads before landing into Dhoni's hands.
India started off with Ashwin in the final session and the offspinner got more purchase from the wicket in the second innings. Dhoni used him to rotate his pacemen from the other end. But the South African openers dug in deep, not allowing the Indian bowlers to take control of things.
Petersen, who shared the bulk of the strike in the unbroken stand of 108 with Smith, got to his fifty with a couple. The right-hander kept on looking for gaps and rotated the strike. Smith, meanwhile, too found his touch and dealt with Ashwin extremely well.
But just when everything looked settled for South Africa, Smith chanced his arm, deciding to take a quick single. But Rahane at mid-on was alert and hit the stumps direct as Smith was found short of the crease. Just like the first innings, Hashim Amla looked tentative early on and was bowled twice in a row leaving the ball - this time he misjudged the length of a short ball by Shami that did not bounce as much as Amla expected.
With light fading, umpire would have ended the day's play earlier but Dhoni convinced them to do otherwise, telling them he would bowl spin at both ends and not pace. If De Villiers bowled on Friday then Dhoni too rolled his arms at the fag end of the day on Saturday, allowing his side to finish the full quota of overs for the day and giving the spectators something to laugh about after a tense day's play.