Replying to India's 212, South Africa spent the second day painstakingly digging the foundations of a big total. They consumed 86 overs on their crawl to 163 for 3 by the close of the second day yesterday.
Cronje's innings took a painstaking five hours 12 minutes but it was a determined performance by the 23-year-old right-hander who, although impressing in the one- day series, had scores of five, two, eight and 15 in the first two Tests.
South Africa were under pressure virtually from the start, when their captain and most experienced Test player, Kepler Wessels, was dismissed before they had opened their account.
But Cronje and opener Andrew Hudson, who made 52, fought back with a 117-run partnership for the second wicket - the first century stand of the series.
Immediately after Hudson was dismissed, India struck another telling blow by sending back Peter Kirsten, also for nought, without a run added.
Brian McMillan prevented any further collapse, staying with Cronje to the close - but it was agonising stuff. The pair managed just 46 runs in the final session with McMillan scoring an unbeaten 19.
Earlier, Allan Donald had taken the wicket of Kiran More for 20 as India subsided inside six overs in the morning session.
The last two wickets managed to add just 15 runs to their overnight score of 197 for 8. Donald ended with figures of five for 55, his first five-wicket haul in Test cricket.
Cronje rebuffed criticism of South Africa's slow scoring, saying: 'That is what Test cricket is about, 150s and big scores.'
His innings, which did feature a swept six off the spinner, Anil Kumble, was described by the South African coach, Mike Procter, as a 'courageous knock'.
But it will have done little to boost the flagging and worrying attendances at the Test series. The day's play was watched by yet another disappointing crowd of less than 5,000.
In an attempt to increase attendances for the remaining three days the ground authorities are bringing in a number of cheap family packages.
(South Africa won toss)
INDIA - First Innings R J Shastri c Henry b McMillan 10 W V Raman c Richardson b Donald 21 S V Manjrekar c Henry b McMillan 23 S R Tendulkar c Richardson b Donald 6 * M A Azharuddin c Richardson b Donald 60 P K Amre c McMillan b Donald 11 Kapil Dev c Kirsten b McMillan 12 M Prabhakar c McMillan b Matthews 11 K S More c Richardson b Donald 20 A R Kumble c McMillan b Schultz 14 Venkatapathy Raju not out 0 Extras (lb13, nb7, w4) 24 Total 212
Fall: 1-43 2-49 3-59 4-98 5-143 6-152 7-160 8-186 9-208.
Bowling: Donald 27-11-55-5; Schultz 20.5-4-39-1; McMillan 20-9-41-3; Matthews 17-7-34-1; Henry
SOUTH AFRICA - First Innings A C Hudson b Raju 52 * K C Wessels b Prabhakar 0 W J Cronje not out 75 P N Kirsten c More b Raju 0 B M McMillan not out 19 Extras (b2, lb9, nb6) 17 Total (for 3) 163
Fall: 1-0 2-117 3-117.
To bat: J N Rhodes, D J Richardson, O Henry, C Matthews, A A Donald, B N Schultz.
Bowling: Kapil Dev 15-5-26-0; Prabhakar 12-3-37-1; Kumble 30-11-46-0; Venkatapathy Raju 28-9-43-2; Tendulkar 1-1-0-0.
Umpires: D Shepherd (Eng); R Koertzen and W Diedricks (SA).Reuse content