The Proteas crawled to 134-3 at stumps on day three of the fourth Test at the Wanderers, stretching their lead to 401.
Having skittled Australia’s top six for 110 runs on day two, the Proteas allowed the pressure to slip as Tim Paine marshaled his tail to the lunch break.
The Proteas eventually knocked over the stubborn Aussies for 221, with Paine’s dismissal producing the most enthralling moment of the day. A brilliant catch from Dean Elgar saw him sprint back from mid-off to take a diving catch off the bowling of Kagiso Rabada, removing the Aussie captain for 62.
The Proteas decided not to enforce the follow-on, despite their 267-run lead, most probably because Morne Morkel had suffered a side strain while bowling.
A 3-1 series win is all but inevitable, however, as the hosts edged closer to their first home-series victory against Australia since readmission and their first since 1970.
The Baggy Greens, however, ensured they would not surrender without a fight.
The innings started at a steady pace, with Elgar and Aiden Markram stringing together a 54-run partnership to take the lead past 300.
This included a special moment for Markram, who celebrated 1,000 Test runs in his 18th innings. The 23-year-old became the second-fastest South African reach the milestone, behind Graeme Smith (17), but his innings ended when Pat Cummins found his outside edge halfway through the second session.
Hashim Amla and Elgar then extended the lead to 325 by tea.
The Proteas’ dominance was emphasised in the final session when, despite the departure of a struggling Amla (16) and lacklustre AB de Villiers (six), Elgar and Faf du Plessis snatched back control of the innings.
The pair took their time at the crease, scoring at 2.5 runs per over, to build a fourth-wicket stand of 40 runs by the close of play.
Australia 221 (1st innings): Tim Paine 62, Usman Khawaja 53, Pat Cummins 50, Vernon Philander 3-30, Kagiso Rabada 3-53, Keshav Maharaj 3-92.
South Africa (2nd innings): Aiden Markram 37, Dean Elgar 39*, Faf du Plessis 34*, Pat Cummins 2-35, Nathan Lyon 1-44.
South Africa lead by 401
Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix