Stephen Cook scrapped his way to 81 as he helped the Proteas to 194-6 to take a slender 70-run lead through to day four.
Cook’s timing could not have been better, for the 33-year-old probably had one chance left to prove his worth at the highest level. Time will tell if this will be enough to keep his place in the side for the Sri Lanka tour, but he’s certainly helped his cause with his highest score since his century on debut against England back in January.
The only problem is that the rest have struggled to hang around with him, as four late strikes, including Temba Bavuma and Kyle Abbott with just three overs left, have kept Australia well in control of this contest, leaving the series whitewash hanging by a thread.
Anything less than a lead of 250 will make it very difficult for the Proteas to defend, so the likes of Quinton de Kock and the tail are going to need significant contributions, which was key to the Australians getting to 383 in the morning session.
Usman Khawaja’s 145 – the first Australian century in this series – took the hosts beyond the Proteas total, and Mitchell Starc’s 53 then put them firmly in control with a 124-run lead.
In response, the tourists got off to the worst possible start, as Dean Elgar nicked one off in the fifth ball of the innings. Remarkably, it was the 20th time since January 2015 that Starc has struck in his first over. No other bowler has done that more than seven times.
Cook held firm in typically gritty fashion and built up an 81-run stand with Hashim Amla, who was handed a reprieve on 15 when he was dropped by Matt Renshaw at first slip. He would run out of luck when he was on 45, snicking one to Matthew Wade to end what was turning into an extremely valuable stand.
The South Africans were looking good on 131-2 as they creeped into a lead, but once again the Australians pegged them back with the dismissals of JP Duminy (26) and Faf du Plessis (12).
Kyle Abbott was introduced as a nightwatchman but it backfired, as Nathan Lyon trapped him lbw. With no reviews left, Abbott was forced to walk off, leaving Cook and Quinton de Kock to keep up the fight on day four.
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