With the series tied at 1-1, Adams claimed three wickets in the space of 15 deliveries as India slumped from a sound start to finish the day at 204 for 6.
India's hopes of reaching a respectable score on a treacherous track, where the ball spun wildly and stayed low, now seem to depend on their captain, Sachin Tendulkar, who remained unbeaten on 43 at the close of play with his partner, Anil Kumble, on five.
The Indian openers Nayan Mongia (41) and Woorkeri Raman (57) put on 76 before both fell to Brian McMillan, who bowled Mongia through the gate and had Raman caught in the gully off an outswinger.
The left-hander Raman, recalled to the Test squad after an absence of nearly four years, was India's top scorer and the partnership was India's highest for the first wicket in seven Tests against South Africa. The South African captain, Hansie Cronje, trapped Saurav Ganguly leg before for 39 to make it 160 for 3 soon after tea.
Adams then swiftly removed Rahul Dravid (7), Mohammed Azharuddin (5) and Sunil Joshi (0) to end the day with 3 for 31 off 14 overs. McMillan finished with 2 for 40.
Tendulkar became the youngest batsman to score 3,000 runs in Test cricket when he reached 10 in his innings yesterday. He achieved the landmark aged 23 years 228 days and in his 45th Test. The record was held by Javed Miandad of Pakistan, who attained the target at the age of 24 years 280 days.
First day, India won toss
N Mongia b McMillan 41
W Raman c Klusener b McMillan 57
S Ganguly lbw b Cronje 39
*S Tendulkar not out 43
R Dravid lbw b Adams 7
M Azharuddin c and b Adams 5
S Joshi c Klusener b Adams 0
A Kumble not out 5
Extras (b1, lb5, nb1) 7
Total (for 6, 90 overs) 204
To bat: A Kapoor, J Srinath, V Prasad.
Fall of wickets: 1-76, 2-111, 3-160, 4-185, 5-193, 6-193.
Bowling (to date): De Villiers 15-7-18-0, Klusener 17-4-47-0 (1nb), Symcox 21-5-57-0, McMillan 18-7-40-2, Adams 14-6-31-3, Cronje 5-4-5-1.
SOUTH AFRICA: A Hudson, G Kirsten, H Gibbs, D Cullinan, *H Cronje, B McMillan, D Richardson, P Symcox, L Klusener, F de Villiers, P Adams.Reuse content