The Proteas boast a 102-run lead against Australia, after an incredible fightback from the bowlers on day two at the Waca.
When David Warner blitzed 73 in the evening session on day one after his side skittled the South Africans for 242, few would have believed the Proteas would seize control of the game by the end of day two.
Getting Warner out early on in the morning session on Friday was going to be the only way the Proteas could get back into the contest. With an average of 95.85 at the Waca, and an average of 68.08 against the Proteas to boot, Warner had all the tools to push on and hand Australia a big first-innings lead.
The loss of his wicket, however, prompted the second-largest 10-wicket collapse after scoring 150 in Test history, and bar the wicket of Warner (97), it was all done without Dale Steyn.
It was Steyn who sparked the comeback as he denied Warner a 17th Test century to fall in the 90s for the first time in his career. He soon followed Warner back to the pavilion, however, unable to complete his 13th over with a shoulder injury. Scans later revealed he has a stress fracture to a bone in his right shoulder, ruling him out of the rest of series.
Then it was a question of where the other nine wickets to come from, with two pace bowlers and a spinner to work with. All three of them rose to the task magnificently.
Rabada took on the role of leading the attack, and that spurred him on to produce an absolute ripper of a delivery to clean bowl Usman Khawaja for four. By the time the session had ended six overs later, two more wickets had fallen.
Debutant Keshav Maharaj removed skipper Steve Smith for a duck, perhaps fortuitously as Smith charged down the wicket but was given out lbw. The Dolphins spinner didn’t care, notching up his first-ever Test wicket.
Vernon Philander dug into the Marsh family either side of the break, trapping Shaun (63) lbw, and then Mitchell (0) in the same manner. It was just reward for some relentlessly excellent bowling throughout the day from Philander.
The carnage continued as Rabada caught and bowled Adam Voges for 10, before Maharaj took two more scalps to sign off for a superb 3-56 on debut. Philander cleaned up the tail to take 4-56.
It was a scarcely believable fightback from the tourists given that Australia went into the day on 105-0. It brought back memories of the 2012 Test at the same venue, as the Proteas posted 225 back then, before dismissing Australia for 163 on their way to a 309-run victory.
With just a two-run deficit, a one-innings match became the scenario, and the Proteas top-order did well to assess the situation and navigate their way to 104-2 by the close of play.
Stephen Cook looked tentative against Mitchell Starc who opted for a leg-stump ploy to the 33-year-old opener, but eventually Cook settled in and edged to a 35-run stand with the gritty Dean Elgar.
Cook (12) got too comfortable in the end, as a mistimed pull shot went straight to mid-wicket off Peter Siddle, who probed very well throughout his spell. A few overs later the hosts had Hashim Amla too, who should have moved forward to a Josh Hazlewood delivery that crept under the bat and on to the stumps.
Another Amla failure, after getting a duck in the first innings, meant another early opportunity for JP Duminy to come in and step up, and he did so with a flurry a clean strokes.
The bowlers had no answers to Duminy and Elgar, who solidified to a 50-run stand, before carrying their side past the 100-mark. Elgar would close the day on 46 not out, Duminy on 34, to cap off an incredible day for the Saffas.
The Proteas would have been rocked by the news that Steyn won’t play any further part in this series, but it might just galvanise the side, just like it did in Australia’s innings, to step it up a notch and perform without him. They’re certainly in a good position to push on and do exactly that.
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