Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Strike kingpin Mitchell Johnson’s most productive spell of the match slightly reined in South Africa’s progress before lunch on day three of the third Test at Sahara Park Newlands here on Saturday.
The Aussie paceman had been rather off-colour for much of the Proteas’ bulky first innings reply to the tourists’ 209 all out, but his no-nonsense spell of 8-0-23-2 from the Kelvin End in the first session meant the hosts didn’t have everything their own way.
Nevertheless, South Africa still dined sumptuously on 508 for six from their overnight 404 for three, with AB de Villiers (90) closing in methodically on his century and Albie Morkel already blazing quite promisingly in his unbeaten 27.
Jacques Kallis was the biggest fish snared by Johnson; the resolute right-hander did not add to his overnight 102.
But the Proteas were a handsome 299 runs to the good and were probably looking to extend that to around 350 or more as the Baggy Greens toiled on increasingly weary legs.
On another picture-perfect day at the ground, De Villiers needed just three overs to go to his 50, in the 105th over, achieved off 73 deliveries.
But immediately afterwards Kallis fell, seemingly surprised by the bounce of a ball from Ben Hilfenhaus and checking his stroke – he ended up simply spooning an easy return catch to the bowler (415 for four).
He had faced 163 balls and struck 14 fours and two sixes in his chanceless innings, which had come at a strike rate of 62 and was marked by periods of both significant dormancy and thrilling verve.
Vigil did not last long
His fourth-wicket partnership with De Villiers had produced 93 runs, with the younger player notching 50 of those and Kallis a more sedate 34 at a time when perhaps the latter might have been expected to “kick on” a tad more.
This brought local hero JP Duminy to the crease but sadly for the robust Saturday crowd (officially a sellout despite a few seating gaps) his vigil did not last very long.
After facing 21 balls, he played a slightly ungainly pull against Johnson and succeeded only in chopping onto his stumps for seven (443 for five).
Mark Boucher, similarly, did not trouble the scorers to any great degree; he managed a fairly streaky 12 before Johnson got him nicking off to Ricky Ponting at second slip as the South Africans subsided a bit to 467 for six.
Just two overs before, Boucher had called for a television review after being adjudged caught behind off the same bowler by Steve Bucknor for four – the replay showed the batsman had probably hit his own toe and missed the ball by several inches.
Decent economy rate
But De Villiers and Morkel put the Proteas nicely back on the front foot before the break.
A terrific roar went up from the Newlands faithful when Bryce McGain came into the attack before lunch - clearly anticipating the prospect of a further pasting for the unfortunate leg-spinner.
He went for 11 runs in his two overs, but that was a decent economy rate in comparison with his merciless, ton-up clobbering in 11 overs from Ashwell Prince and company on Friday!