After reaching 397, thanks to Faf du Plessis’ 98 and half-centuries from Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy, the Proteas took one wicket to leave Zimbabwe 113 runs behind going into day four.
After the sedate batting in the afternoon session, Dale Steyn came out for the final 30 overs of the day with a mission. He smashed a six off John Nyumbu off the first ball of the second over after the break, and that set the tone for a rapid innings of 19. He hit one more six off Nyumbu, was almost stumped attempting a third, and finally fell trying for another, but top edged it and was caught in the covers.
The increase in run rate provided by Steyn was infectious, with Duminy upping his scoring rate and reaching his half-century off 122 balls. In the end, the Proteas added 63 runs in the hour after tea, compiling a lead of 141 runs. Duminy was the last to go, also to Nyumbu, who claimed five in the innings, only the second Zimbabwean bowler to take a five-for on debut.
Zimbabwe came out to bat out the day, and negotiated the opening spell from Steyn and Vernon Philander well. It was the bowling change that brought the wicket, Morne Morkel getting Hamilton Masakadza from the first ball of his second over.
Masakadza had looked confident, sweeping Dane Piedt for six in his first over, but had no answer to a vicious Morkel bouncer that reared, hit the splice and popped up for the second slip. He went for 19, and Zimbabwe were 25-1 in the tenth over.
Masakadza’s was the only wicket to fall, as Vusi Sibanda and Donald Tiripano survived the last few overs to take Zimbabwe to 28-1 at the close. On a turning pitch that is only going to crumble more, the Proteas will hope Piedt will be able to add to his four-for in the first innings, and bowl Zimbabwe out cheaply tomorrow.
This morning, Du Plessis and De Kock walked out to resume South Africa’s innings on 69 and 27 respectively. It was a great opportunity for De Kock in particular to register his first significant Test score and cement his place in the side.
The scoreboard read 201-4 at the start of play, meaning South Africa still trailed by 55 runs. The batsmen played themselves in against Zimbabwe’s two most economical bowlers, Tendai Chatara and Tinashe Panyangara, taking the score to 221-4.
The first bowling change of the morning saw the debutant Nyumbu test how much purchase he could extract from the tiring wicket. The batsmen immediately used their feet in an attempt to prevent the off-spinner from settling and took eight runs off his first over.
Tiripano was thrown the ball at the other end to complete the double change. His first delivery was dispatched to the boundary as the pressure, created by the opening spell, was released.
De Kock then lost concentration and slapped an Nyumbu half-tracker straight to short cover, but fortunately it was too hot to handle for the fielder. The South African keeper had been given a life on 45 and together with Du Plessis took the score to 239-4 at drinks.
Shortly after the break, De Kock danced down the wicket to hit Nyumbu for a towering straight six to bring up his second Test fifty and simultaneously pass his previous highest score. Reaching the milestone saw the left-hander change gear as he attempted to play a shot-a-ball in pursuit of quick runs.
The injection of positivity saw South Africa take the lead in the 104th over as a De Kock’s inside edge found the fine leg boundary. At the other end, Du Plessis continued to play his game, but fell just two runs short of what would have been his fourth Test century. He was caught at short leg off the bowling of Nyumbu just 10 minutes before lunch.
The second session of the day was two hours of slow, attritional cricket. Just 56 runs were scored, with Quinton de Kock falling early in the session, while Philander went off the last ball.
De Kock fell in the third over after lunch, becoming Sean Williams’ first victim in Test cricket. After sweeping the slow left-armer with varying success, he attempted to force the pace by dancing down the track to one outside off.
Unfortunately it turned fairly sharply, and De Kock ended up chipping it tamely to the short midwicket. He fell 19 runs short of a maiden Test century, and once he was gone, so was the impetus in the Proteas’ batting.
Philander joined Duminy at the crease, and the pair batted out the afternoon with as little fanfare as possible. Whether facing spin or pace, they remained content to block away everything that came their way. They were particularly circumspect after drinks, scoring just 12 runs in the second hour of the session.
Philander fell to Williams in the last over before tea, getting bowled by one that turned across him. He made 17 from 87 balls.
Report compiled by Gareth Stevens and Dan Gillespie.
Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/Backpagepix