JOHANNESBURG - Australia were denied a victory on day four of the first Test in Kingsmead with South Africa ending the day on 293/9 – 124 runs behind on Sunday.
Aiden Markram's valiant century was not enough to prevent what looks like an inevitable Australia win.
The home crowd had dared to dream at one point after Markram and Quinton de Kock shared a 147-run stand, but the centurion was dismissed by Mitchell Marsh before Mitchell Starc mopped up the majority of South Africa's tail with three wickets in a single over.
It was always going to be a near-impossible task for South Africa. Set 417 to win – 340 is the highest-ever successful run-chase at Kingsmead – while 418 is the highest chase in Test history.
With day three – a day when Australia had batted their way to a position of utter dominance despite spirited persistence from South Africa with the ball – having finished early due to bad light, the tourists entered day four on 213/9 and 402 runs ahead with one wicket remaining.
Despite two days left to play, it was a tad surprising when Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins strolled out to the middle as Australia opted against a declaration. The latter smashed a big six before dragging one on from left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj to end Australia's innings on 227. Maharaj's 4/102 in the second innings bolstered his match figures of 9/225 – a career-best.
Australia’s spinner Nathan Lyon was introduced into the attack in just the sixth over but it was left-arm fast quick Starc who did the damage in the seventh – a back-of-a-length delivery found some bounce and sideways movement to draw an edge from Dean Elgar, which Tim Paine duly bagged the catch behind the stumps.
Removing the resoluteness of Elgar was a big wicket for Australia, and 29/1 soon turned into 39/3. Firstly, Josh Hazlewood wrapped Hashim Amla on the pads and umpire Kumar Dharmasena raised the finger after much consideration. A review couldn’t save South Africa’s No 3, with DRS showing the ball clipping the top of the bails and concluding with umpire’s call.
Next up was an awful mix-up between Markram and AB de Villiers. The opener clipped a Lyon delivery around the corner to David Warner, as De Villiers set off for a risky single. Markram sent him back and despite supreme agility and a desperate dive De Villiers could not return home in time. Warner’s excellent pick-up and the throw was grabbed by Lyon at the bowler’s end to run the batsman out.
A bad start was made worse when Cummins entered the attack and nipped one back through the gate of Faf du Plessis to take his off-stump. The captain was gone and South Africa’s were crumbling at 49/4.
Aiden Markram (143) and Theunis de Bruyn survived another 20 minutes before lunch, with South Africa still requiring 354 runs to win. More relevant, of course, was that Australia had five sessions to take the remaining six wickets.
Markram, resolute in defence whilst hitting the bad ball when it came his way, recorded his fifty – his third in Test matches – shortly after lunch. He hit Nathan Lyon over the top of mid-off for four before stealing a single to mid-on to reach the milestone.
South Africa’s recovery stand was ended when Hazlewood struck with his first ball of the over, nipping one away from de Bruyn, who edged behind to depart for 36.
Shortly after, Lyon spun the ball into Markram and it ballooned off the front pad to Steve Smith at slip. After a not out verdict, Australia lost a review after the third umpire backed the on-field decision.
Markram was 85 not out at tea, partnered by De Kock on 21, with Australia only having claimed one wicket in the afternoon session.
After tea, Starc was incensed when Markram’s thick outside edge sailed through gully to take him onto 99 before a risky single helped the opener reach his third Test century from 171 balls. De Kock raised his bat during the same over after reaching a timely 50.
The two continued to plough on positively, giving the home crowd hope, before Mitchell Marsh made the breakthrough after the batting all-rounder was thrown the ball with Australia needing to buy a bit of time before the new ball was due. Centurion Markram attempted to guide the ball down to third man but caught the top-edge, which Paine took sublimely despite standing up to the stumps.
As Vernon Philander entered the crease with South Africa 133 runs shy, a successful chase looked like a mountainous challenge once more. He didn't last long, as Starc drew an outside edge with some nice reverse-swing.
Maharaj and Rabada were both bowled in the same over, as the quick looked to mop up the tail with his lethal in-swing.
With the light fading, it was spin-only for the Aussies, as skipper Steve Smith brought himself on to work in tandem with Lyon, but South Africa managed to fight for another day, delaying an inevitable Australia victory in the first Test in Durban.
Day five will resume on Monday with Australia needing just one wicket to go 1-0 up in the series.
African News Agency