South Africa batted steadily to reach 80-1 in their first innings at lunch on the opening day of the third and final Test against India here on Friday.
Skipper Graeme Smith was unbeaten on 31 with Hashim Amla not out 11 at the break.
Piyush Chawla, a 19-year-old leg-spinner returning to the side after two years, tasted the lone success in the morning session when he had Neil McKenzie (36) stumped by stand-in captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni in his first over.
McKenzie and Smith put on 61 for the opening wicket.
South Africa lead 1-0 following their crushing win by an innings and 90 runs in the second Test in Ahmedabad. The first match ended in a draw in Chennai.
India suffered a big blow when captain and key leg-spinner Anil Kumble was ruled out of the match after failing to recover from a groin strain.
The hosts made three changes from the side that lost the second Test as they included fit-again fast bowler Ishant Sharma, Chawla and middle-order batsman Yuvraj Singh.
India went into the match with two pacemen and as many spinners on a pitch expected to favour slow bowlers, but there was little for the four-man attack in the morning session.
Left-handed Smith and McKenzie batted sensibly to ensure South Africa do not squander the advantage of batting first on a track lacking both pace and bounce.
Both waited patiently to punish loose deliveries, with McKenzie edging Sharma past third slip for four and then pulling the next delivery for a boundary early in the morning.
India pressed off-spinner Harbhajan Singh into the attack in the ninth over but it was Chawla who provided the breakthrough.
McKenzie fell immediately after driving Chawla for a four. He was beaten by the flight while stepping out to drive the spinner, with Dhoni completing an easy stumping.