This was much more like the sort of cricket you come to expect from the No. 1 team in the world; aggressive, hostile bowling followed by forceful batting to set up a position of complete dominance with two days to go. With Hashim Amla stroking the ball beautifully to reach 93, South Africa’s lead stands at 369 although Graeme Smith will not be without a quandary or two with a dodgy forecast for the final day and Wayne Parnell unlikely to bowl again in the match due to a groin strain.
However, given the state his side was in a week ago this position represents an overwhelming turnaround of fortunes. South Africa must now give themselves every chance to level the series – and set up a humdinger of a finale in Cape Town – and it will be a good test of Smith’s instincts when he feels the balance of runs and time is where he wants. If they are still denied by weather, or a rearguard, then that is the game but he must not be cautious.
Amla, who earlier dislocated a finger when he missed a tough chance in the gully, ensured South Africa’s innings was always moving at the sort of tempo needed after Australia had been removed for 246. By his standards he has endured a lean time of late – seven innings with a best of 36 including a first-innings duck here – but he made a mockery of any talk about his form as he unfurled a collected of exquisite boundaries, his off-side drives from front and back foot one of most pleasing sights the game currently produces.
Amla was given a life on 83, when he glanced Mitchell Johnson down the leg side and Brad Haddin could not hold on, and took a glancing blow on the helmet from a sharp bouncer but was barely troubled otherwise. It was only towards the close that he reigned himself in a touch, ensuring he was there for the charge in the morning. His partnership with AB de Villiers was, for the 67 deliveries it lasted, a masterclass of batting from the pair as they increasingly did what they pleased to push South Africa’s lead forward at five-an-over.
The pair’s quality was put into further context by the fact that other batsmen still had work hard for their runs. Graeme Smith’s difficult series continued when he fell to Johnson, an inside edge cannoning into leg stump, after tensions had become frayed even before a ball was bowled when Smith was not ready to face the first ball. If smoke was not coming out of Johnson’s ears then, it was when the ball was eventually clipped for four.
Peter Siddle removed Dean Elgar from round the wicket and his delivery to find Faf du Plessis’ edge, lifting and nipping away off a length, will not have gone unnoticed by the South Africa pacemen. This is not the lifeless pitch that it appeared on the opening day
Still, with time perhaps being an issue later in the game, one thing South Africa will have to do in the second innings is take all their chances. Their catching has been unusually fallible so far in this series when Robin Peterson, on as sub for Amla, dropped a dolly at square to reprieve Steven Smith, but the bowlers continued to create enough opportunities that no single miss proved overwhelmingly costly, although the errors could yet add up to hurt.
David Warner had been among those given a life when he was dropped on the second evening by AB de Villiers, but his innings was ended early in the morning session when he was tempted to drive a full delivery from Vernon Philander.
Four balls later, Nathan Lyon was dismissed for the first time in nine innings spanning 160 deliveries when Morne Morkel’s barrage from around the wicket succeeding in forcing Lyon into playing the ball into stumps from way outside leg. South Africa could have had another scalp in the next over when Amla dropped Haddin on 1 and Smith cashed in on his lifeline from Peterson.
Halfway through his ninth over, Parnell pulled out of his delivery stride and, on trying to start again, aborted all efforts. He walked to Smith, handed him the ball and trudged off with a slight limp. He was immediately taken to hospital for scans which confirmed a strain which makes him unlikely for the second innings, but not a more serious tear.
Dale Steyn continued to find movement with ball beginning to reverse and following an appeal for lbw when one tailed back into Haddin he then found a gap between bat and pad as the keeper went for drive, the ball snaking to take out middle stump. With a bowler down, Smith had little choice but to introduce spin and brief Australia counterattacked against JP Duminy but life was much tougher at the other end.
Morkel produced another fierce spell, battering the ribs and helmet of Johnson, and it was a wicket for Morkel whatever the scorebook might say when Johnson missed a straight delivery from Duminy. Shortly after lunch, Smith became Morkel’s third when he was given caught behind via the DRS when the third umpire used a spike on Snicko to decide it was sufficient prove to over-turn the on-field not-out. The look on Darren Lehmann’s face suggested he did not believe it was conclusive prove.
Siddle and Ryan Harris showed that the surface remained true for batting with a pesky last-wicket stand of 37, although Siddle could have been out for nought if South Africa had reviewed for a gloved short ball off Steyn. Instead, Harris cleared the follow-on target with a six over midwicket off Philander – although it was unlikely Smith was enforced – before giving Morkel a third which was the least he deserved.
SOUTH AFRICA 1ST INNINGS 423 &
AUSTRALIA 1ST INNINGS
DA Warner c Smith b Philander 70
NM Lyon b Morkel 15
SPD Smith c †de Villiers b Morkel 49
BJ Haddin b Steyn 9
MG Johnson b Duminy 27
RJ Harris c du Plessis b Morkel 26
PM Siddle not out 11
EXTRAS (lb 4, w 2, nb 1) 7
TOTAL (all out; 57 overs; 281 mins) 246
FALL OF WICKETS 1-7 (Rogers, 3.3 ov), 2-41 (Doolan, 9.1 ov), 3-41 (Marsh, 9.3 ov), 4-81 (Clarke, 17.2 ov), 5-120 (Warner, 29.3 ov), 6-128 (Lyon, 30.1 ov), 7-168 (Haddin, 40.5 ov), 8-205 (Johnson, 49.2 ov), 9-209 (Smith, 50.2 ov), 10-246 (Harris, 56.6 ov)
DW Steyn 13-3-55-1, VD Philander 13-0-68-3, M Morkel 17-0-63-3, WD Parnell 8.3-2-31-2, D Elgar 0.3-0-1, JP Duminy 5-0-24-1
SOUTH AFRICA 2ND INNINGS
GC Smith* b Johnson 14
D Elgar c †Haddin b Siddle 16
HM Amla not out 93
F du Plessis c †Haddin b Siddle 24
AB de Villiers† c †Haddin b Johnson 29
Q de Kock not out 9
EXTRAS (b 2, lb 5) 7
TOTAL (4 wickets; 47 overs) 192
TO BAT JP Duminy, WD Parnell, VD Philander, DW Steyn, M Morkel
FALL OF WICKETS 1-20 (Smith, 4.1 ov), 2-42 (Elgar, 11.6 ov), 3-112 (du Plessis, 25.5 ov), 4-167 (de Villiers, 36.6 ov)
MG Johnson 12-0-48-2, RJ Harris 10-1-53-0, NM Lyon 12-2-31-0, PM Siddle 13-2-53-2
Toss South Africa, who chose to bat
Test debut Q de Kock (South Africa)
Player of the match tba
Umpires HDPK Dharmasena (Sri Lanka) and RK Illingworth (England)
TV umpire Aleem Dar (Pakistan)
Match referee RS Mahanama (Sri Lanka)
Reserve umpire AT Holdstock