Keegan Petersen stood tall but India delivered telling blows at the other end on the second day of the deciding Test at Newlands on Wednesday.
The Proteas went to tea on 176/7 having lost four more wickets in the period from lunch.
Rassie van der Dussen (21), Temba Bavuma (28), Kyle Verreynne (0) and Marco Jansen (7) lost their wickets as India continued a spirited fightback after they were bowled out for 223 on the first day.
While India made inroads from the Wynberg end, Petersen (70 not out) built on his form from the second Test at the Wanderers where he scored his maiden Test half-century. He again reached that milestone, oozing class and looking untroubled throughout.
Even when he came to the crease to face the third ball of the day with Jasprit Bumrah in full flight, the diminutive batter looked at ease.
He played delightfully behind as well as square of the wicket on the offside while proving proficient when the bowlers strayed onto his pads.
He found two capable allies in Van der Dussen and Bavuma, but both nicked off just when they looked set.