JOHANNESBURG: Captain Faf du Plessis ended his run of low scores with a classy unbeaten half-century as South Africa remained on course for victory at lunch on the fourth day of the fourth and final test against a wilting Australia at a gloomy Wanderers on Monday.
Du Plessis (81) and opener Dean Elgar (59) survived a morning session that was shortened by 30 minutes due to bad light, taking their team to 202 for three at the interval, an overall lead of 469 that already looks well out of Australia’s reach.
The pair has added 108 for the fourth wicket. Elgar took 199 balls to reach his 12th half-century to go with 11 test tons as South Africa first make sure they bat their opponents out of the game to secure a first series victory over Australia in almost 50 years have gone into the game with a 2-1 lead.
Elgar faced the equivalent of exactly 30 overs of dot balls on his way to 50, with just 19 scoring shots, a sign that South Africa is in no mood to try and force a victory despite their commanding position.
The wicket has variable bounce and some sideways movement and du Plessis took a nasty rap on the gloves from Australia seamer Pat Cummins that drew blood and necessitated intensive treatment.
After that du Plessis took the attack to the bowlers, especially on spinner Nathan Lyon, and passed 50 for the first time in 11 innings, seven of which have been single-figure scores, including a first ball duck in the first innings of this test.
All eyes will now be on a declaration, though South Africa will not want to give Australia a sniff of victory with seamer Morne Morkel unlikely to bowl in the remainder of what is his final test before retirement from international cricket having picked up a side strain on Sunday.
It means the home side have only three frontline bowlers in seamers Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander, and spinner Keshav Maharaj.
They will then have to rely on part-timers Elgar, Temba Bavuma and Aiden Markram, who have just 15 test wickets among them.
Australia needs a victory to avoid a first series defeat in South Africa since 1970, but have been rocked by the ball-tampering scandal that saw former captain Steve Smith, his deputy David Warner and batsman Cameron Bancroft sent home and slapped with hefty bans after the third test in Cape Town.