Australia under pressure as South Africa stretches lead to 369 after three days with six second-innings wickets left
On the first sunny day of the match, South Africa used a quickening pitch to build on the advances made over the first two days and ensured that there should only be one winner in its second Test against Australia in Port Elizabeth.
After bowling Australia out for 246 in the first half of Saturday (February 22), South Africa scored at more than four runs per over to go to stumps on 192 for 4 – an overall lead of 369.
Over the first two days, the cloudy weather had not permitted the pitch to show its full character. But, under a bright sunny sky, it opened up like uncorked wine allowed to breathe, and South Africa made the most of the fresher conditions to wrest control of the game. Interestingly, its biggest concern now will be another kind of weather, with considerable rain forecast for the fifth day.
Although Hashim Amla returned to form with a silky-smooth 93 not out, all flowing cover drives off both front and back foot, the South African played as a team. The seamers bowled with bristling intent to capitalise on a first-innings score of 423, and the top order backed Amla up enough in the second innings to not allow Australia a way back into the game.
All along, the St George’s Park band played on, lifting a jolly crowd’s spirits even higher.
South Africa’s first-innings advantage could have been even greater were it not for two dropped catches to go with its errors on the second evening. Although wickets fell so regularly that the 40-run stand between Steve Smith and Brad Haddin was the largest for Australia on the third day, reprieves for both men gave a throttled Australia a few welcome breaths of air.
Earlier, Australia resumed on 112 for 4, but lost David Warner for 70 in the fifth over of the day when he edged Vernon Philander to slip. The nightwatchman Nathan Lyon followed in the next over when he was bowled by Morne Morkel to end a plucky innings in which he had faced continual bombardment from South Africa's quicks.
That left Australia at 128 for 6, and it could have lost a seventh soon after when Haddin edged to Amla at gully, only for the fielder to dislocate a finger as he tried to take the overhead catch. Amla’s finger was soon popped back in, but while he was off the field, Steve Smith was given a lifeline by substitute fielder Robin Peterson as he dropped a sitter at square leg.
Were it not for those chances, Australia could have been 149 for 8, but it got a couple of partnerships to go past 200 – the first between Steve Smith and Haddin, who was bowled by a Dale Steyn inducker, then between Steve Smith and Mitchell Johnson, who was bowled by JP Duminy off the final ball of the first session. In the midst of all this, Wayne Parnell limped off the field with a groin problem, and although a scan confirmed there had been no tear, he was unlikely to bowl in the second innings.
Steve Smith went to lunch on 49, and failed to add to his score before being caught behind off Morkel an over after the interval. Ryan Harris took Australia past the follow-on score when he pulled Philander over midwicket for six and added 37 in less than seven overs with Peter Siddle, but Morkel ended the fun when he induced an edge from Harris to finish as the pick of the bowlers with 3 for 63.
Although Johnson and Siddle picked up a couple of wickets apiece in South Africa’s second innings, the pace at which the hosts scored kept them well ahead of the game. A 70-run partnership between Amla and Faf du Plessis was scored at five per over as Amla found gaps in the offside where Australia were sure they hadn’t left any. And once Siddle had removed du Plessis with a gem, Amla added a further 55 in the next ten overs with AB de Villiers.
De Villiers was caught behind attempting to ramp a Johnson delivery over the slips, but Australia spurned a chance near the end of the day when Haddin failed to get two hands to an Amla edge down the legside. Such problems were the preserve of South Africa up until day three, but as with the weather, it seems the tides are changing.