Cape Town - Australia broke decisively through the South African middle-order in the night session of play to take a firm grip on the final Test match after three days’ play at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday.
The Proteas had looked as though they might wipe out their substantial first innings deficit of 124 runs without too much damage when they reached 100/2 at the dinner break with opening batsman Stephen Cook laying a sound foundation.
But everything changed against some high quality Australian bowling in the final session with the Proteas reaching the close on 194/6 in 69 overs for an overall lead of just 70 runs with two full days still to go.
Cook is still at the crease with an unbeaten 81 (199 balls, 7 fours) and it will very much be up to him and the Proteas’ most in-form batsman, Quinton de Kock, if Australia are to be set any kind of target in the final innings. The fact that the Australians have to bat last is the one card the Proteas still have to play.
But it is not going to be easy. The pitch seems to have dried out a lot but only time will tell if the spin and bounce that Nathan Lyon is obtaining is down to the night time conditions or is due to deterioration in the playing surface which still looks in pretty pristine condition.
Lyon was the most successful bowler with his figures of 3/48 but there were also important contributions from Josh Hazlewood, who captured the wicket of Hashim Amla for the fifth time in a row, and Mitchell Starc who captured important wickets in Dean Elgar and Faf du Plessis.
Starc’s role with the bat was also significant. The Proteas must have thought they were about to sweep through the Australian tail when Vernon Philander trapped Usman Khawaja leg before wicket early in the afternoon session but Starc rallied his fellow bowlers around him to make 53 off 91 balls with 5 fours and a six.
The result was that Australia put on an invaluable 56 runs for the last three wickets.
Kyle Abbott and Kagiso Rabada finished with three wickets each.
The second new ball is only 11 overs away which makes it essential for Cook to get the Proteas through that period. In addition, they will need another De Kock spectacular which nobody, least of all the Australians, will discount at this stage.