• Australia pile on the pressure

    South Africa’s chances of avoiding defeat against Australia at Kingsmead range between slim and none. And slim has just left Durban.

    When you are chasing over 400 to win a Test match, which would be a record by some 60 runs on a ground where Test cricket has been played for over a hundred years, you know that you have to look for divine intervention. And that’s unlikely too.

    That’s what faces South Africa as they head into the fourth day of the opening Test against Australia, 402 runs behind, with the visitors having one wicket remaining. It could be that Faf du Plessis’s men get asked to hunt down 403, it could be a few more. But the total is already too much.

    This Kingsmead pitch, which will now get slower to bat on, has produced totals of 351, 162 and 213-9 in successive innings in the first three days. To think that a total of 400-plus is possible is to dream.

    Which is probably what the bookies are doing. If you fancy South Africa to chase down the total, most online oddsmakers have the hosts around 9-1 in the betting. It’s probably more to highlight the good day they had in the field on day three, starting the day 189 runs behind and taking nine Australian wickets.

    Take a bow, South Africa. You fought back hard on the third day but the horse has already bolted. That first innings capitulation and the brilliance of Mitchell Starc with a spell of reverse swing has made the task one where honourable defeat seems the only likelihood.

    The Proteas could have wilted, to use a cliche that has probably been inked a million times or more. But they didn’t and damage limitation means that in a month-long series of four Tests – a rarity for South Africa when it comes to Test handouts – they should be able to head into the second Test feeling as though they can at least look Australia in the eyes.

    The problem when chasing 400-plus – apart from the weight of history – is that the way this match has developed doesn’t suggest that South Africa will be able to get close.

    Cricket is a game of statistics and it’s one that has stats to back up over a hundred years of Test cricket. History beckons, and it would be one of the great Test victories. But it’s not going to happen.

    In scoring 400, invariably there is a player or two who hits a hundred and there are a few substantial partnerships.

    So far in this match, the highest score has been Mitchell Marsh’s 96, followed by AB de Villiers (71), Steve Smith (56), Cameron Bancroft (53) and David Warner (51). Apart from individual scores, the biggest thing about building sizeable totals is the batting partnerships.

    Australia produced three partnerships over 50 in their first innings and one in their second. South Africa produced one in their first innings. The biggest partnership of a Test which has so far seen 29 wickets fall in three days is 60. That doesn’t suggest 300 is reachable, let alone 400.

    Throw all of that into the mathematical blender and, as we head into day four, there is surely no way that anything other than a resounding Australian victory can be predicted.

    Photo: Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images

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    Gary Lemke