Chasing a highly improbable target of 481, South Africa stonewalled the opposition with some defensive batting, scoring at just a run an over on a slow strip at the Feroz Shah Kotla ground in New Delhi.
At stumps on the fourth day, the Proteas were 72-2 off 72 overs with skipper Hashim Amla on 23 off 207 balls and AB de Villiers unbeaten on a 91-ball 11.
The top-ranked tourists, who have already lost the series 2-0, will need to bat out three full sessions on Monday to snatch a draw and salvage some pride.
A 300-plus target has been chased successfully just once in a Test match on Indian soil — by the home team which made 387-4 to defeat England in Chennai in 2008.
Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, the highest wicket-taker in the series with 28 scalps so far, took 2-29 but the other bowlers were denied any success.
Indian fast bowler Umesh Yadav said his team were surprised by the batting tactics.
“They did not even try to go for their shots even when there were balls to be hit,” he said.
“In such a situation the game becomes boring and taking wickets becomes a challenge. But we have the full day tomorrow, hopefully we will be able to bowl them out.”
Amla, who has had a miserable tour, resorted to dead-batting for most of his innings, managing his first run only after facing 46 balls.
The usually flamboyant de Villiers, who has the distinction of scoring the fastest ODI century, also curbed his natural attacking instincts.
‘Time is the key’
“We did sit down to discuss the game plan. We decided blocking was the best way forward,” said opener Temba Bavuma, who made 34 before losing his off-stump to Ashwin.
“It’s not so much the runs, it’s the time that’s the key. It would be a tough task to bat out 90 overs tomorrow as the wicket is deteriorating.
“But we have the experience with batsmen like Amla and de Villiers out there in the middle.”
In a low-scoring series where no batsman had previously managed to score a hundred, Rahane hit his second ton of the match to help the hosts declare their second innings on 267-5 half an hour before lunch.
He smashed three sixes and eight fours in his unbeaten 100-run knock and shared a 154-run partnership with captain Virat Kohli (88), the highest of the series.
India, who bowled out the Proteas for 121 in their first innings after making 334, have already bagged the series with wins in the first and third Tests. The second Test in Bangalore was washed out after the first day’s play.
Rahane was in sublime form after the Indians started the day with a commanding lead of 403.
The diminutive right-hander lofted Morne Morkel (3-51) for a six over third man before inflicting similar punishment on spinners Imran Tahir and Elgar and racing into the 90s.
Rahane reached the three-figure mark with a single off Tahir, becoming only the fifth Indian player to score a century in each innings of a Test after Vijay Hazare, Sunil Gavaskar (three times), Rahul Dravid (twice) and Kohli.
Kohli was unlucky to miss out on a century Sunday, trapped leg before by fast bowler Kyle Abbott (1-47) in the fifth over of the day after having resumed on his overnight 83.
He struck 10 fours in his patient 165-ball innings.