The signs were ominous for South Africa, after losing the toss on a slow and facing the prospect of bowling first on a low and turning pitch, as India targeted a big first innings score in this third Test in Nagpur.

Those signs looked more ominous when Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan looked as comfortable as an Irishman in a pub, with the new ball doing little to nothing and hardly bouncing, with it negating Morne Morkel's biggest threat.

However, South Africa did not lose heart, allowing their spinners to come into play and dry up the runs, and then the, just like that, the reverse-swing also came to the fore, bringing Morkel back into the game as well.

After a 50-run partnership for the first wicket, India lost a couple of quick ones before Lunch, leaving the hosts on 85 for two in 27 overs at Lunch, before it got a lot worse, as Morkel bowled a reverse-swinging spell-and-a-half to cut the India batsmen down to size.

India resisted the South Africa bowling wave a lot better in the final session – helped by Morne Morkel (16.1-7-35-3) limping off the field with an injury – but the home team could still only manage 215 all out in 78.2 overs. How good that score is, we will know once South Africa complete their first innings. The start was not great, though, for the visitors, with Stiaan Van Zyl dismissed by R Ashwin in the fourth over, before nightwatchman Imran Tahir was castled by Ravindra Jadeja. South Africa finished day one on 11/2 in 9 overs, with Dean Elgar, who will be crucial on Day 2, and Hashim Amla at the crease.

The first 13 overs of the match were pretty good for India, with runs coming at a good pace and Vijay, in particular, looking in the mood for a big score on this low wicket, which started to take considerable spin right from the off.

The turn, though, was not the quickest, even if there were a few deliveries that did rip through – R Ashwin would have liked that – and even after the spinners came in, for the first few overs, India looked comfortable.

However, an all-too-predictable lazy drive from Dhawan (12, 23b, 2x4), which lobbed up straight back to Dean Elgar gave South Africa the momentum they were desperate to find.

The runs stopped coming – Vijay was on 33 from 46 balls after over number 11, but ended up with 40 in 84 balls (3x4, 1x6) – and the pressure increased, the reverse swing was visible from over number 19, and just like that South Africa clawed their way back in the first session.

It had to be a peach of a delivery to dismiss Vijay, who was as assured as they come, and it was from Morkel as the ball tailed-in on the angle and then held its line a touch after pitching to miss the batsman's bat and hit his back leg smash-bang plumb in front.

Virat Kohli came in and saw off the rest of the overs to Lunch with Cheteshwar Pujara, but India could not carry that partnership forward, as wickets tumbled like nine pins in the post-Lunch session.

Pujara (21, 43b, 2x4) was trapped in front by Harmer (27.2-2-78-4) off the first ball of the fourth over of the second session, before Morkel took control. The lanky fast bowler got the ball to reverse-swing both ways, leaving the India batsmen clueless for much of the spell of 4-2-8-2.

Ajinkya Rahane (13, 25b, 1x6) was the first to fall under the Morkel spell, playing-on off a ball that tailed-in. He should never have been playing an expansive drive that led to his downfall, but the problem was created in the previous ball, when the ball moved away and took a genuine edge, which fell short of Hashim Amla at first slip.

In Morkel's next over, Kohli (22, 55b, 2x4) was walking back as well, as the India skipper pushed outside his off-stump – the issue that just does not seem to go away – and found a fine edge through to wicketkeeper Dane Vilas.

With India on 116/5 at that point, a partnership between Rohit Sharma, drafted in as an extra batsman, and Wriddhiman Saha was needed, but Rohit (2, 28b) flattered to deceive yet again in the Test format, bat-padding one De Villiers to give Harmer, quite impressive with his control, his second wicket. That put India on 125 for six, and Saha and Ravindra Jadeja took India through to Tea on 149/6, with the second session fetching SA four wickets, while conceding just 64 runs in 28 overs.

South Africa were made to work for their wickets a lot more in the final session, as Jadeja and Saha put on a vital 48-run partnership for the seventh wicket. Jadeja was the aggressor in the alliance, scoring 34 from 54 balls (6x4), while Saha chipped in with 32 (106b, 4x4), albeit taking a lot longer to get there.

Just when it looked like Jadeja would get the first half-century of the match, with his counter-attack, Rabada got the left-hander to play one on. India were only on 173 for seven at that point, but Saha and Ashwin (15, 44b, 1x4) put on another crucial 28 runs together to take India past 200.