Johannesburg – Faf du Plessis’ decision not to enforce the follow-on wasn’t the most popular call, but it is one that has all but guaranteed the Proteas their first home Test series win against Australia since re-admission.
Having dismissed Australia for 221 in the first innings on day three of the fourth and final Test at the Wanderers on Sunday, South Africa had a 267-run lead and could have put the visitors in to bat again.
Instead, the hosts went in for a second dig and at stumps they were 134/3, setting up a mammoth lead of 401 in a Test match that has ticked along nicely.
SCOREBOARD: SA v Australia - 4th Test, Day 3
Overcast skies hovered over Wanderers for most of the day, but of the seven wickets to fall just five belonged to the seamers.
As the day drew to a close, some deliveries began to stay low while there was significant turn throughout, and this strip will not get any easier to bat on as the Test progresses.
The decision to bat again was probably made easier by the fact that Morne Morkel, in his final game for South Africa, picked up a side strain and had to leave the field in the first session.
The 33-year-old did come back onto the field before lunch, but after the Australian innings he was receiving treatment and the time on the side-lines while his team-mates extended the lead would have been welcomed.
Aiden Markram (37) and Dean Elgar (39* off 158 balls) shared another half-century stand for the first wicket before Markram was out caught at second slip off Pat Cummins, who continues to impress.
In the process, Markram had registered 1 000 Test runs in just his 10th Test match. He becomes the second fastest South African to that milestone after former captain Graeme Smith did it in 17 innings. It took Markram 18.
Hashim Amla brought the curtain down on a forgettable series when he was out for 16, caught at backward square-leg off the bowling of Nathan Lyon when he tried to work one onto the on side. The ‘Mighty Hash’ could only inside edge onto his thigh pad before the ball popped up to Mitch Marsh.
Amla finishes the series with just 196 runs at an average of 24.50.
AB de Villiers was next to go for just 6.
The former skipper has been immense for South Africa throughout this series, but he could not get out of the way of a Cummins bumper and he edged through to Tim Paine behind the stumps.
Du Plessis, who has been badly out of form, and Elgar then combined for the last 87 minutes of the day.
Together, they shut up shop with time at the crease clearly more important than runs on the board.
By the time they were done, Du Plessis and Elgar had put on 40 for the fourth wicket in 130 balls.
Du Plessis finally got some runs behind him, finishing the day on 34*.
Earlier, Australian stand-in captain Paine had displayed a fair dose of courage and fight to be the last man out for 62 in the first innings. It took a spectacular diving catch from Elgar, running back towards the boundary from mid-off, off the bowling of Kagiso Rabada (3/53) to get rid of him.
Pat Cummins (50) had put on a 99-run stand with Paine for the seventh wicket before he was out LBW to Keshav Maharaj (3/92) shortly before lunch.