Australia were left in tatters and staring a heavy defeat in the face when they closed day two of the fourth Test on 110-6, still 378 behind the Proteas’ first offering.
Vernon Philander undermined their efforts with three wickets, aided by some poor decisions and a magnificent catch by Quinton de Kock, while Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel and Keshav Maharaj all chipped in against a side that played fast and loose when iron will and resolute defence was demanded.
Commanding the Australians’ rearguard action for a short while was Usman Khawaja, who was on 53 when he dabbed at a leg-side delivery from Philander, to be brilliantly snapped up by De Kock, standing up the wicket and probably blind to the trajectory.
He and Shaun Marsh had put together a partnership of 52 after Australia were reeling at 38-3. Philander, in a particularly difficult spell, took two of those, while Rabada made the early breakthrough when Joe Burns (8) edged to Faf du Plessis, diving in front of Hashim Amla at first slip.
Philander then dismissed Matt Renshaw, unnecessarily chasing a wide one, and Peter Handscomb who nicked an inside edge on to his stumps in successive balls.
Mitchell Marsh also dragged on, while Shaun Marsh was undone offering a defensive shot to Maharaj’s sharp turner, being taken at slip.
Earlier, Temba Bavuma was cruelly denied his second career hundred, being left stranded on 95 when South Africa were bowled out for 488 just before tea.
He had started the day on 25, with South Africa on 313-6, and led a tail-end assault which put on 175 in 49 overs. He and De Kock (39) put on 85 for the seventh wicket, and put on 76 in 15 overs with Maharaj, who contributed 45 off 51 balls, until he nicked a wild shot off Pat Cummins.
Morkel, sadly for Bavuma, guided the next ball to slip, leaving the diminutive fighter with his second-best score in Tests, behind his century against England in January 2016. His 95 had come off 194 balls with 13 fours.
But perhaps it was consolation that he had played his part in building a fortress which Australia are unlikely to breach.
South Africa 488 (1st innings): Aiden Markram 152, Temba Bavuma 95*, AB de Villiers 69, Quinton de Kock 39, Pat Cummins 5-83, Nathan Lyon 3-182, Chadd Sayers 2-78.
Australia 110-6 (1st innings): Usman Khawaja 53, Shaun Marsh 16; Vernon Philander 3-17.
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