Australia in SA
Proteas race the elements
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Graeme Smith (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - South Africa need to either complete the job or at least make significant inroads towards it on Sunday if they are to win the second Test against Australia at St George’s Park and level the series.AS IT HAPPENED: SA v Australia - Day 3
A strong chance of rain for much of the scheduled fifth day’s play on Monday continues to characterise weather forecasts for Port Elizabeth, something that will not have escaped the attention of Graeme Smith and his dominating, wonderfully resurgent team.
So the elements, at this stage, look like potentially being the main obstacle to the Proteas’ quest to keep alive the dream of coming from behind to win a first home series against the Baggy Greens since 1969/70.
They have a commanding lead of 369 runs with six second-innings wickets still in hand after day three, when they tightened their grip on proceedings admirably.
At the very least, it is desperately hard to see the Aussies winning from this position in the Friendly City, so the series is likely to remain alive now when the sides head for the final contest at Newlands from next Saturday.
Considering the powerful comeback statements South Africa have made in this Test after the humiliation of Centurion, Smith will want nothing less than to square matters ahead of the journey southward, enabling him to strike for the series win with a head of steam on his side.
The Proteas are gradually ticking more and more boxes when it comes to restoring their best standards of No 1-ranked excellence, including the particularly happy development on the middle day of top-order kingpin Hashim Amla regaining his lustre at the crease in a big way.
He is within seven runs of what will be his 21st century at this level if he gets to three figures on Sunday, when the Proteas probably wish for not much more than a lively first hour of attacking stroke-play before setting the Aussies a target well in excess of 400.
Local guru and former national captain Kepler Wessels had already said much earlier in day three that anything above 300 would be tricky to chase down on the gradually deteriorating track that is encouraging reverse swing a bit.
It raises the suggestion that somebody like Dale Steyn, who has unusually not yet put a major stamp on the series, could be just about ready to come into his own at a timely juncture, even if Australia possess fighting, counter-punching customers in their batting line-up like David Warner, captain Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin.
A word of caution, too, has come in from neutral guest commentator and West Indies legend Michael Holding, who believes that even a last-knock score “in the high 300s” is gettable with the correct application and grit.
The South African task in the field will not be made easier, unfortunately, by the likelihood that Wayne Parnell, who picked up a groin strain in the first session on Saturday, will not be able to contribute at all with the ball.
It means the Proteas are back to reliance on the old, established front-line seam firm of Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel for their key strikes and they will also need some pace-changing overs from JP Duminy and Dean Elgar – in the absence of a “proper” spinner -- in order to be able to rest and rotate the faster men suitably.
Better news, thinking ahead to the Newlands clash, is that Parnell’s injury is a strain rather than a tear, so he has a chance of being fit for duty there.
It was shown in the Aussie first knock, when Morkel led a blitz of sustained hostility, that four pacemen is the right brew for South Africa, allowing them to all bowl in short but intense bursts.
If the Proteas do manage to beat the tourists without a specialist spinner in PE, then there is little reason to suspect they could not get away with the same formula again at Newlands.
But there is plenty of other work left to do first ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing