Johannesburg - It’s not often that one gets to ask of a team that is ahead with 388 runs in the second innings of a Test: How many runs would the Proteas need to win the first Test against Australia?
On the face of it, the Proteas – with Quinton de Kock and Vernon Philander at the crease and four wickets in hand – are in a strong position.
The game has gone lightning fast on the famed WACA pitch in Perth, thanks to both sides being dismissed, South Africa for 242 and Australia for 244, in their first innings.
But while the WACA is supposed to be a fast-bowler’s paradise, it also has a history of leaking an incredible number of runs. The last Test played there between Australia and New Zealand a year ago scored a combined 1 672 runs, with no less than six centuries, including David Warner and Ross Taylor’s double hundreds.
South Africa’s own batting record at the grounds should have them now fearing the worst from Australia’s batting. In 2008, the Proteas posted 414 in the final innings to win, which stands as the second highest run-chase in history.
Adding to the visitors’ problems are three more factors: Batting is considered easiest on days three and four at the WACA; the Proteas will be defending their lead without Dale Steyn, who has been ruled out of the series with a serious shoulder injury suffered in the first innings; and time is certainly not a problem for the traditionally fast-scoring Aussies.
But, whatever the permutations, these shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow a sensational comeback by the Proteas batsmen, which more than rivalled their bowlers. The latter came back from having the Aussies at 158 for none, to dismissing them 86 runs later.
This redemption was led by JP Duminy and Dean Elgar, who came together at a potentially precarious 45/2 and were only parted 250 runs later, when Peter Siddle induced the former to chase a wide one and nick off to keeper Peter Nevill.
The partnership was a study in contrasts: An imperious Duminy after his 141 (225 balls, 20 fours and a six) and a dogged Elgar, with 127 (316 balls, 17 fours and a six), in the stifling Perth heat (the mercury touched 35°C at one stage).
The Aussies must hate the sight of Duminy in their own country. Before Thursday, the stylish left-hander averaged 61.50 in Australia, and being back rekindles memories of his maiden voyage, where he gave a hint of his outrageous but largely unfulfilled gifts with a 166 at the MCG.
He was at his fluent best in a chanceless innings on Friday, his signature shot being the cover drive.
Not bad for a man who reportedly wanted to quit Test cricket in January.
What Elgar’s nearly eight-hour vigil lacked in fluency, he more than made up for with his guts.
Having been rapped on the forearm early in the innings by Mitchell Starc, he was dropped in his early 80s by the same player before cramping just before he guided a tired drive off Siddle to Starc at gully.
What would have pleased Elgar would be redeeming himself after recording a pair the last time he was at the WACA in 2012.
While the Aussies didn’t bowl particularly badly, their captain Steve Smith may well have missed a trick early in the Duminy-Elgar partnership.
There was none of the usual short-pitched bombardment for Duminy early in his innings, or the use of off-spinner Nathan Lyon.
Lyon was the only bowler Elgar was keen to come after by charging down the wicket.