India must have envisioned a quick end to the South African innings once talisman Faf du Plessis was back in the dugout. But, that wasn't quite the case as Keshav Maharaj and Vernon Philander salvaged some pride for the visitors, forging a resolute 109-run partnership for the ninth wicket. The visitors were eventually bundled out right before stumps, providing India a hefty first-innings lead of 326 runs.
Hanging by a thread at 36/3 when play resumed, the visitors endured a dreadful start. Nightwatchman Anrich Nortje failed to withstand the prowess of Mohammed Shami, nicking a lifter to Virat Kohli in the anticipating slip cordon.
Theunis de Bruyn looked in great touch as he drove and whipped the seamers with panache. Feeling for an innocuous good-length ball by Umesh Yadav, the overnight batsman feathered a healthy edge to keeper Wriddhiman Saha, who dived acrobatically to make a tough chance look easy.
The Proteas captain somehow managed to harmlessly negotiate the quicks despite being repeatedly troubled by nagging inswingers. Forthwith, Quinton de Kock united forces with his skipper to weather the menacing storm. The flamboyant left-hander delivered pristine drives before Ravichandran Ashwin castled him with a jaffa. Post the lunch break, Ravindra Jadeja accounted for Senuran Muthuswamy to worsen South Africa's woes.
Taking his own sweet time to get off the mark, Vernon Philander found his groove with a couple of boundaries off Ashwin. However, India's premier off-break redeemed himself as du Plessis edged a drifter to slip for a gritty 64.
Battling a shoulder injury, Keshav Maharaj went about his rescue-act with a proactive mindset. The ideal support was found in Philander, who embarked on a blocking mission right from the outset. Nurdling the spinners dexterously, Maharaj promptly dispatched looseners to the fence as India toiled in quest of a breakthrough.
Maharaj put the accomplished top-order to shame as he registered his half-century with a firm push down the ground. The valiant alliance was ultimately broken by Ashwin, with Rohit Sharma pouching Maharaj's uncurbed glance at leg-slip. The 28-year-old walked off the field to a standing ovation from the Pune crowd, having averted a reprehensible collapse. Terminating Kagiso Rabada's nervous jitter, Ashwin concluded with four wickets in his bag.
The big question at the moment is whether India enforce the follow-on or improve the substantial lead to cushion the bowlers with some extra runs in the final innings.
Brief scores: South Africa 275 (Keshav Maharaj 72, Faf du Plessis 64; Ravichandran Ashwin 4-69, Umesh Yadav 3-37) trail India 601/5 decl., by 326 runs.