It was anticipated to be a Test series for the ages.
By the time David Warner had slapped South Africa’s highly-rated pace attack all over Centurion, scoring 115 to lift Australia to a lead of 479 at stumps on day three of the first Test, it had degenerated into backyard cricket.
Certainly in the eyes of Warner, who feasted on short-pitched and wide bowling but was indebted to four reprieves by the hosts.
“Probably backyard cricket,” Warner recalled on Friday of the last time he had so many lives in an innings.
“You are going to be a bit tired in the field, and it looked pretty lazy out there the way that they were fielding.”
Vernon Philander missed a run-out chance when the aggressive opener was on 106.
Far more costly were dropped catches when he was on 26, 27 and 51 – by 12th man Dean Elgar, Alviro Petersen and Graeme Smith respectively.
“The fielding was certainly one of the factors which made me feel almost embarrassed,” AB de Villiers said after Australia breezed to a total of 3-288 at stumps.
“I’m very, very disappointed in the way we fielded and bowled at times, with no intensity.”
Warner smacked his sixth Test ton off 118 balls and shared a 206-run stand with Alex Doolan, who fell 11 runs short of a century on debut.
Unbeaten batsmen Shaun Marsh (44) and Michael Clarke (17) continued to score freely as Australia piled on 270 runs in two sessions.
“We’ve been told to play with cojones,” Warner said of coach Darren Lehmann’s edict.
Clarke’s only concern is the timing of his declaration on Saturday.
No Test side has ever scored more than 418 in a successful fourth-innings run-chase.
But the Proteas have form when it comes to salvaging a draw.
Warner noted his side had not forgotten the way they batted for four and a half sessions at Adelaide Oval to avoid defeat in 2012.
“If you look back on Adelaide when we put 500 runs on the board, it was a tough battle there,” he said.
“It’ll be a tough battle here. It is quite flat if the cracks don’t do anything.”
Mitchell Johnson set a new mark for his best Test figures outside Australia on Friday, finishing with 7-68 when the Proteas were rolled for 206 shortly before lunch.
De Villiers, who scored 91 and was the only batsman to look comfortable against Johnson, said his team would not fold as tamely in the second dig.
In scenes reminiscent of the past summer, everything seemed to go Australia’s way on day three.
Apart from the Proteas’ floundering in the field, which included too many gifted runs, the Decision Review System (DRS) was a tale of two teams.
Smith challenged the umpire’s verdict after two confident Morne Morkel lbw appeals, when Warner was on 97 and Doolan 54.
The margin was slender but he was knocked back both times – in sharp contrast to Clarke who had DRS to thank for the dismissals of Hashim Amla and Philander.