Cape Town – The Proteas were so close to taking the third Test away from Australia at Newlands on Friday, but again they let the visitors back into the contest.
With all three seamers firing, South Africa had reduced the Aussies to 175/8 before a late flurry from Nathan Lyon (47) and Tim Paine (33*) evened things up somewhat.
At stumps on day two when bad light stopped play, Australia were 245/9, just 66 behind South Africa’s first innings total of 311, and their fightback was almost all down to that 66-run ninth wicket stand.
There were more significant side stories – Dean Elgar becoming the second player in Test history to carry his bat three times, Morne Morkel (4/87) becoming the fifth South African to reach 300 Test wickets and David Warner clashing with a spectator on the staircase – but the fact that matters most is that the Proteas are ahead in the match.
Elgar and Kagiso Rabada had put on a valuable 50-run stand, contributing another 41 runs in the morning session.
Rabada (22) and Morkel (4) fell in the same Lyon (2/43) over, and the Proteas had done well to get over the 300 mark from being 257/8 late on day one.
Warner then smashed his way to 30 off 13 balls, hitting Rabada (3/81) for three fours in a row and then a six, but it was the Proteas speedster who had the last laugh with the delivery of the day when he sent Warner’s off stump cartwheeling.
Warner was given some trouble by a spectator when leaving the field, and Cricket South Africa confirmed that the fan was removed from the ground afterwards.
The attention then turned to Morkel, who took three wickets in just 7.3 overs to get to 300.
Morkel was mixing his lengths well, and he removed Usman Khawaja (5), Steve Smith (5) and then Shaun Marsh (26) to bring Newlands to its feet.
When Marsh was caught behind, Morkel had made history and joined Shaun Pollock (421), Dale Steyn (419), Makhaya Ntini (390) and Allan Donald (330) in South Africa’s '300 club'.
The 33-year-old has announced that he will be retiring from international cricket at the end of the Australia series, but he showed that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank and was instrumental in getting the Proteas moving in the right direction on Friday.
Vernon Philander (2/26) then came to the party.
Australian opener Cameron Bancroft was looking set for a maiden Test ton, but he was out for 77 when he was trapped plumb in front by Philander.
Before being taken off the field to be evaluated for possible whiplash after falling awkwardly in the field, Philander had his second when Mitchell Marsh was caught behind for 5.
With the South African seamers sharing the load, it was then Rabada’s turn to get back into the fray and he did not disappoint with a now familiar, fiery spell.
Rabada got rid of Pat Cummins (4) and Mitchell Starc (2) in quick succession, and at 175/8 Australia were in deep trouble.
With Philander off the field after his attempt at a running catch left him looking uncomfortable, Australia’s recovery came via the unlikeliest of sources.
Lyon’s top score in Test cricket before this innings was 40, but he combined with Paine to bring up a 50-run partnership for the ninth wicket off just 52 balls.
It didn’t help that De Villiers dropped Lyon when he was on 32, and with every run late in the day the Australians got themselves further back into the game.
Lyon eventually fell for 47 when he was well caught by Elgar at cover to become Morkel's fourth victim of the day.
At stumps, Paine was protecting No 11 Josh Hazlewood (1*) at the other end.