Vernon Philander took the final three India second innings wickets in the space of four balls -- the first with a sensational catch by Quinton de Kock standing up to the stumps -- to snuff out any thought of a final twist in the tale of the first Test match at Newlands on Monday to clinch a 72-run victory for South Africa.
Prior to Philander's triple strike there was just a chance that India might pull off an improbable win as Ravichandran Ashwin and Bhuvneshwar Kumar put together an eighth-wicket stand of 49 after India had collapsed to 82/7 in pursuit of a victory target of 208 which was only one run short of what they had managed in the first innings.
However, the famed Indian batting line-up failed to live up to the hype as they crashed for a lowly 135 in their second innings. Batting at No. 8, Ashwin was the top-scorer with 37, while Captain Virat Kohli, who made 28, was the only other batsman to cross the 20-run mark in the second innings.
India fielded just five specialist batsmen for the opening Test, including Rohit Sharma in place of vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, but they managed a combined of just 130 runs in the two innings.
If not for Hardik Pandya's blistering knock of 95 in the first innings, India would have struggled to reach 209 in their first innings.
Pandya's fine all-round show, including three wickets, kept India in the contest, but none of the top batsmen came to the party. It also spoiled all the good work done by the bowlers on Day 4 when they brought India back into the contest as they sent South Africa packing for 130 in the second innings.
Philander finished with career-best figures of 6/42 -- improving on his 6/44 against New Zealand in Hamilton in 2011/12.
It was his 12th five-wicket haul in Test cricket with only Dale Steyn (26), Allan Donald (20), Makhaya Ntini (18), Shaun Pollock (16) and Hugh Tayfield (14) having done better in South African colours.
It was a wonderful climax to a thoroughly entertaining match which was effectively decided in three days. On what turned out to be the final day 18 wickets fell for 200 runs as South Africa first collapsed from their overnight 65/2 to 130 all out from a little bit short of 22 overs and India were then bowled out for 135 in 42.4 overs.
This compared with the 23 wickets that fell in one day for 294 runs when the Proteas scored a remarkable come from behind victory against Australia at the same venue in 2011.
In the end, the 77-run first innings lead proved critical for South Africa.
The combination of the third day's rain coupled with a fair amount of cloud clover produced a surface that if anything was trickier than it had been on the first day. Apart from those batsmen who were dismissed bowled or leg before wicket nearly all the wickets were the result of catches in the cordon behind the wicket.
Wridhiman Saha took 10 catches in the match for India and De Kock claimed seven for the Proteas. The home side's slip catching was a vast improvement on recent performances with Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers taking two catches each and substitute fielder Chris Morris one in the gulley.
Philander was named Man of the Match for his figures of 9/75 although a case could also be made out for AB de Villiers with his half-century in the first innings followed by his making 35 of the 65 runs the Proteas managed on the final morning.