Kagiso Rabada struck late on day four to leave the Proteas needing just six wickets for victory against Australia at the Waca.
The Proteas’ proud record at the Waca in Perth looks set to continue, as a couple of late Rabada strikes has given the tourists a sniff of victory going into the final day, with Australia precariously placed on 169-4.
What a remarkable turnaround it’s been. By the time day one was finished, the Proteas had been bowled out for 242, and a David Warner blitz got the Australians to 105-0. Now the hosts are staring down the barrel of a third-consecutive defeat against South Africa in Perth.
They have Temba Bavuma and Rabada to thank for putting their side on the brink of victory. It took an extraordinary piece of fielding to remove the potentially dangerous David Warner for 35, and that prompted the slide, as Rabada steamed in with three wickets.
The Proteas began the day well-placed on 390-6, boasting a lead of 388. JP Duminy and Dean Elgar were the stars on day three with centuries. It was the turn of the lower order and then the bowlers to step up on day four, and they did so superbly.
Quinton de Kock weighed in with 64 and Vernon Philander 73 in the morning session, before a late siege from Keshav Maharaj (41 off 34) stretched the Proteas to 540-8 declared.
There were two options for Australia to aim for when they strode out to bat. Either smash the 418-7 record that West Indies scored against Australia for victory in 2003, or do what the Proteas did in Adelaide four years ago, and bat out 140-plus overs to scrape a draw.
Warner, of course, only knew one way, and that was to take the attack to Rabada and Philander, the only fit pace bowlers. He smashed six boundaries on his way to 35, but then one moment of magic turned the innings on its head.
The left-hander nudged one for a single, and before he realised there was any danger at all, Bavuma had rushed toward the ball from point, picked it up cleanly, and throw directly at the non-striker’s end, sending a startled Warner back to the pavilion.
Galvanised by what happened, Rabada then produced a scorching delivery to see off Shaun Marsh just four balls later. Marsh played for a bit of swing, but it held its line for the opener to edge it to second slip for 15.
Usman Khawaja survived a review in the first ball of the next JP Duminy over, and that was as close as it got for the Proteas for a while. Khawaja, together with Steve Smith settled things down and appeared to be heading towards stumps relatively well placed.
Their partnership stretched to 92, but with eight overs left, Rabada produced another moment of brilliance, bowling slightly fuller to entice Smith (34) into a shot, which could only be nicked through to De Kock.
Rabada, clocking in at 145 km/h-plus, had Adam Voges not knowing whether to go back or forward, and in his next over, saw the bewildered 37-year-old off for one.
Australia are now in all kinds of problems on 169-4, and Khawaja, who brought up his fifty late on, will need to hang around to give them any feint chance of getting something out of this match.
Credit must go to skipper Faf du Plessis for the way in which he’s rotated his bowlers in the absence of the injured Dale Steyn. Rabada, fired up, bowled quite long spells, but the spinners have been causing plenty of problems on a pitch that’s starting to offer a lot of turn.
The Proteas are now just six wickets away from a famous victory, and they’ll look to come out firing in the morning session on Monday.
Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images