Published On: Sat, Mar 3rd, 2018

South Africa show fight but Australia's lead crosses 400

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Despite South Africa making inroads into Australia’s batting, the visitors ended day two 402 runs ahead

Australia 351 and 213 for 9 (Bancroft 53, Morkel 3-42, Maharaj 3-93) lead South Africa 162 by 402 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

It was a long shot that South Africa could significantly improve their situation on the third day at Kingsmead, and long shots rarely get up. They fought hard, took wickets, fielded well, kept Australia to a fairly modest score – and still ended the day facing a near-record Test chase. It was always likely. The morning began with Australia 189 runs in front, and ready to start their second innings. What South Africa really needed was an all-out 47 a la Cape Town 2011. What they got was Australia on 213 for 9 at stumps.

That meant that for all South Africa’s hard work, little had changed in the match situation. Australia’s lead stood at 402 runs, with the possibility of adding more on the fourth morning. South Africa would need at the very least the fifth-highest successful chase in Test history to win. They would also have to better by 60-plus runs a record that has stood for 60-plus years – the highest target ever successfully chased in a Test in South Africa was 336, achieved on this ground when Neil Harvey struck an unbeaten 151 in 1950.

If South Africa want encouragement, they can look to more recent history. In 2002, also at this venue, they chased down Australia’s target of 335, so the two highest-successful pursuits in South Africa have come at Kingsmead. And the second-highest successful chase in all of Test history was the 414 that South Africa achieved against Australia in Perth in 2008. If the conditions are different, at least some of the players are the same: AB de Villiers made 106 not out in that chase, and Hashim Amla contributed a fifty.

But enough nostalgia. Kingsmead 2018 is all that matters now, and on the third day of the Test, Cameron Bancroft eased some of the immediate pressure on his place in the side with a half-century; Usman Khawaja got out reverse-sweeping before he had reached double-figures; Dean Elgar made Steven Smith his bunny by dismissing him for the second time in Test cricket; Keshav Maharaj took his match tally to eight wickets; Morne Morkel took his career tally to 297; Kagiso Rabada bowled impressively and claimed 2 for 28; and perhaps significantly for the chase, Elgar hurt his hand late in the day.

Bancroft and David Warner started the innings with a solid 56-run partnership but on 28, Warner threw his start away by trying to force Rabada through leg and instead sending a catch to mid-on. Khawaja then completed a disappointing Test personally when he tried to reverse-sweep Maharaj and a catch popped up off his glove to Quinton de Kock, ending his innings on 6.

Australia’s lead was already in comfortable territory but Bancroft still had much to play for, seeking to justify his retention ahead of Matt Renshaw for this tour. If he didn’t fully put his stamp on the position as Warner’s opening partner, he at least showed a glimpse of what he can do, striking 10 fours on his way to a 76-ball half-century, and using his feet well to the spin of Maharaj. At least, for a while. It was that same footwork that brought him undone, when on 53 he failed to reach the pitch of one and Maharaj turned it past his edge to allow an easy stumping.

Left-arm spin also accounted for Smith, but from an unlikely source. Faf du Plessis took a gamble on the part-time spin of Elgar and it immediately paid off, when on 38 Smith tried to sweep and was lbw. Remarkably, it was the second time in Tests that Elgar, who has 14 wickets from 46 Tests, had dismissed Smith, the world’s best Test batsman. Four years ago almost to the day, he had bowled Smith in Cape Town with a hop so long it could have won Olympic gold in the triple jump.

Smith had already survived a close call on 30 when he was adjudged not out lbw to Maharaj, and South Africa’s review found that – by the slimmest of margins – he had been struck in the umpire’s call zone on off stump. In general, South Africa might have been frustrated by close calls going against them on the third day, though du Plessis was also saved from wasting reviews on two occasions when the umpire Kumar Dharmasena decided he had taken too long.

South Africa continued to pick up wickets fairly regularly. Mitchell Marsh edged to slip off Rabada for 6, Tim Paine was taken at slip off Maharaj for 14, Shaun Marsh spent 99 balls over 33 before he too edged to second slip off Morkel, and Nathan Lyon likewise sent a catch into the cordon off Morkel. The one who wasn’t caught behind the wicket was Mitchell Starc, who crunched Morkel to cover, where Elgar took a sharp catch but immediately left the field for medical attention to his hand.

The day finished – early once again, due to bad light – with Pat Cummins on 17 and Josh Hazlewood on 4. And with South Africa, for all their best efforts, no better off than they were 24 hours earlier.

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